Kiwi tourism companies facing 'rollercoaster' in sales

Kiwi tourism companies facing 'rollercoaster' in sales
Photo credit: Getty

By Katie Todd for RNZ

A tough 2020 means New Zealanders holidaying in their own country are increasingly doing so to "relax and refresh" - putting the outdoors before adrenaline or socialising.

The findings by Tourism New Zealand correlate with bumper summer bookings on Department of Conservation's Great Walks, and offer a glimmer of hope to tourism operators grappling with selling Aotearoa to itself.

Today at the organisation's roadshow event in Auckland, the soft chandelier lights and luxury surrounds of the Cordis Hotel were in stark contrast to the dire situation faced by some of the operators attending.

Among them, owner of EcoZip Adventures on Waiheke Island, Gavin Oliver, said his 2020 experience in the industry could be in the most polite terms described as a "rollercoaster".

At the start of the year, he was hoping to expand operations to Kaikōura, but he said spikes and dips in visitor demand had made it difficult to plan anything.

"It's really difficult. We've had great numbers in the school holidays, fabulous, the sort you'd expect to see in high season in summer, then a literal lurch to next to nothing for a few weeks. Then it gathers momentum again. That's why the rollercoaster analogy is so accurate," he said.

Research released by Tourism New Zealand today suggests nearly three-quarters of New Zealanders are planning a backyard holiday in the next 12 months, and more are endorsing the idea of travel in their own country.

Among people surveyed in September, 62 percent described domestic holiday options as 'excellent or good', which is a 14 percent increase from May.

People cited a desire to relax and refresh, enjoy spectacular scenery, or visit new places, which Tourism New Zealand chief executive Stephen England-Hall said wasn't a surprise.

"What that suggests is that people have had a pretty hectic start to the year. Rather than driving for new experiences or once in a lifetime moments, they're saying over the summer or next year we really want to chill out for a bit."

For the Department of Conservation (DOC), it means more people going bush, especially near urban areas.

Over winter, foot traffic was up 50 percent on last year at Goldie Bush Scenic reserve near Auckland, and 136 percent at Godley Head in Christchurch.

DOC spokesperson Alastair Johnstone said this summer, 55 percent more New Zealanders are booked to do Great Walks than last year, which more than makes up for the loss in international visitors.

"We're hearing positive signs from New Zealanders about their desire to get into the outdoors. We suspect it's part of being locked down or being constrained to their homes or workplaces," he said.

However for other urban based outfits, it has been proving tough to lure people to take city breaks.

An ad campaign recently rolled out by Auckland council's tourism arm, ATEED, instead focuses on getaways on the outskirts of the city, highlighting that there's more to Auckland than just the masses.

ATEED's general manager, destination, Steve Armitage, also defended criticism from some operators that the organisation was "slow off the mark" to launch a marketing campaign after the borders closed, as other regions competed to attract Aucklanders.

"We needed to take some time to understand our own position and what our plan needed to be, which is why we put an industry leaders group together and undertook a lot of engagement to develop a recovery plan that positions us collectively and cohesively alongside everybody that operates in the sector around one vision for where we're going in the next 18 months," he said.

"In my view it would have been folly for us to just invest in marketing activity without understanding what the long term aims were."

Amritage said when the borders re-open to Australia, perhaps by March or April next year, there is an advertising campaign ready to go.

In the meantime, EcoZip Adventures owner Gavin Oliver said he was heartened by the community support, with customers telling him they would rather seize the opportunities they can for a getaway, than save their money or annual leave.