Some West Coast districts have higher visitor spending as others plunge to new low

Fresh statistics out of the South Island's West Coast tell a tale of two halves.

Visitor spend numbers show while some West Coast districts are experiencing growth during the pandemic, others are plunging to a new low. 

Over the latest holiday period, Fox Glacier Guiding was operating at just 10 percent of pre-COVID numbers.

"The pain just continues, the uncertainty just continues, and that's really the toughest thing to deal with," says CEO Rob Jewell.

"I had a team of 65 back in 2019, we're now 15."

The latest visitor spending numbers for the year ending in December paint a grim picture of what's happening - or not happening - in Franz Josef and Fox Glacier.

"It's gone from what was a very busy business to extremely quiet," Jewell says.

In 2019 the visitor spend was $39.7 million. It almost halved in 2020 to just $22.7 million, and then again last year, with just a $12.38 million spend.

To break that down further, for the same time, domestic visitor spending in Franz Josef and Fox Glacier increased by 35.8 percent. But there simply aren't enough of us to fill the gaping hole left by internationals, whose spending has dropped by 97.4 percent - leaving Glacier Country down by 68.8 percent. 

It remains the worst-hit area in New Zealand. Franz Josef Wilderness tours has refocused its business just to get by. 

"The last three years have been very difficult. Our company has been through some tough times and some massive changes," says Dale Burrows of Franz Josef Wilderness Tours.

Westland is feeling it too - visitor spending is down 49 percent compared to pre-COVID times.

But, strangely, two West Coast districts have bucked the trend.  

"A tale of two coasts, isn't it. The northern part has been faring pretty well," says Health Milne, CEO of Development West Coast.

Grey District has increased by a modest 1.4 percent, but Buller has climbed 24 percent since the pandemic began. 

"It looks like it's road trips, so New Zealanders have got in their cars and campervans and travelled around. So accommodation isn't looking that great but retail is looking really good," Milne says.

But for businesses that rely on tourism, the only sure way out for them means letting more people in.