Rotorua tourism operators say no to emergency housing extension

Tourism operators are against the idea of some motels being used as emergency housing accommodation for another five years.
Tourism operators are against the idea of some motels being used as emergency housing accommodation for another five years. Photo credit: RNZ

By Tom Taylor RNZ

Tourism operators in Rotorua are firmly against the idea of some motels remaining as emergency housing accommodation for another five years.

Resource consent was being sought, and if granted, would apply to 13 motels in the city.

Rotorua's reputation as a tourism mecca had taken a hit over the pandemic, but operators were optimistic that this summer could provide a step towards normality.

Planning a stay in a Rotorua could be a minefield.

Of the 67 motels listed on the tourism board's website, 46 are operating as emergency housing, or with a mixed model of both emergency and visitor accommodation.

RotoruaNZ chief executive Andrew Wilson said it was a difficult situation for both tourists and residents.

"We've seen the visitor feedback from those properties that are trying to mix visitors with people that are in emergency, transitional, or long-term housing, and it's not ideal.

"I don't think that it's actually ideal for the people who are living in those properties either to have visitors coming through, so it's not a great mix."

Wilson said RotoruaNZ's commercial accommodation dashboard provided transparency on which properties were operating from a tourism perspective and which were focussed on emergency accommodation.

He said that amid an increase in antisocial behaviour and petty crime, his organisation's primary concern was making sure visitors stayed safe this summer.

That included looking at the future of emergency housing, with much hanging on the outcome of consents for 13 motels, which could see them used as emergency housing for the next five years.

"From our perspective, five years is a hell of a long time," Wilson said.

"When you're looking at what the impact of this reputational damage has been, and you multiply that out over five years, you start to get into some eye-wateringly large numbers.

"That's something that I don't this community can afford."

At Hell's Gate mud spa, operations manager Paul Rayner said the state of Rotorua's emergency housing threatened the reputation the city had built up over 100 years as a tourist destination.

"I see us showing a lot of manaakitanga to people staying in those motels in town, but I don't see a lot of it coming back," Rayner said.

"We need to stop it, and five years is just far too long."

Rayner said the pandemic had brought tough times for most tourism operators.

However, he chose to view it as an opportunity for improvement.

"It was the perfect kick up the butt we needed.

"This business is running so much more effectively now, and we've really focussed on our team, our staff, and the culture of the business.

"We run a much more efficient business now, we're much more profitable than we were beforehand -- the business has completely changed."

Before the pandemic, downhill giant inflatable ball-rolling attraction Zorb had about 30,000 visitors passing through each year, three-quarters of which were international tourists.

Owner Andrew Akers said the overall figure had dropped by about half in the past couple of years, but hoped the situation was improving.

After two-and-a-half years of limited repairs and maintenance onsite, the company was now playing catchup to get everything ready for summer.

However, while Akers hoped for the best, he was still planning for the worst.

"The big unknown is if anything else happens on the covid front.

"At the moment, the New Zealand dollar is fairly low, which means if they're internationals travelling here, their money goes a little bit further, which is great for us.

"But on the other side, airfares are high, so we just don't know."

Despite concerns for the city's future, Rotorua business owners predicted a busy summer and recommended that visitors book activities well in advance to avoid disappointment.