Struggling tourism operators urge New Zealanders to visit Hawke's Bay after figures show $49m hit

Some tourism operators in Hawke's Bay are on the brink of collapse and crying out for visitors with new figures showing they've taken a $49 million hit since Cyclone Gabrielle.

International tourists are trickling in, but Hawke's Bay Tourism says most New Zealanders are still staying away. 

"We really could do with visitors back right now," said Hawke's Bay Tourism marketing manager Ben Hutton. 

"There's probably a bit of a misconception that Hawke's Bay is still under water or inaccessible and that's not the case. All our key roads are open, the airport is open and all our key attractions are ready to welcome visitors." 

Wellingtonian Sara Roberts and her Auckland mother Stella Huse were among those visiting this weekend. The family group was forced to postpone their trip in February due to the flooding. 

"We were so looking forward to it, we were kind of disappointed everything happened and we thought let's go down and check it out and we haven't been disappointed!" Stella Huse told Newshub.

The latest figures from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment show the true impact of Cyclone Gabrielle on attractions, motels and eateries.

Following three years of border closures and lockdowns, the tourism sector in the region has had its market share reduced by 11 percent as a result of the February cyclone and flooding.

"Forward bookings are looking pretty good, but there's no reason you need to delay your visit, we are ready to see visitors now. We were recently awarded Great Wine Capital of the World status, the gannets open soon, Splash Planet opens soon, we have the Hawke's Bay Marathon, so many things to look forward to," said Hutton. 

Eighty-five percent of all cycle trails are now open for riding according to Tākaro Trails Bike Hire owner Roger Coleman.

"We've had to lay off staff just to get through so we can survive but we really don't want to do things like that, so really we just need the people coming back!"

Rebuilding tourism is vital to the region, which is the third-biggest earner for Hawke's Bay behind agriculture and manufacturing.

It didn't help that the 2023 Art Deco Festival, Hawke's Bay's biggest event of the year, was called off due to the disaster.

Art Deco Trust chair Barbara Arnott said while the winter festival still attracted several thousand people recently, classic car and walking tours have been relatively quiet since.

"If 2024 is not a year we can run our festival, and sometimes have 400 people doing our walks and tours, then art deco will be struggling and of course the rest of Hawke's Bay will be struggling."

She issued a challenge to New Zealanders to come and enjoy "a bit of heritage and culture" to help get the region back on its feet.