26 May 2017

Fiordland leads Southland’s tourism growth

Southland’s tourism sector is one of the fastest growing in the country, due in no small part to the increase of visitors to Te Anau and Fiordland.

Figures released on Thursday by the Ministry of Business, Employment and Innovation show tourism spending had increased by 9 per cent from April 2016 to 2017.

While the peak for the tourism season ended in March, the figures show continued growth in numbers into April.

Tourists spent $62 million during April in Southland, a 15 per cent increase on the month of April for 2016.

However, the figures did not show an even spread of tourism growth across the region.

Fiordland’s tourism numbers grew by 16 per cent in the past 12 months, second only to the Wanaka Lakes District.

Accommodation providers in Te Anau said there had been a noticeable increase in visitor numbers this season.

Bella Vista Motel Te Anau manager Yinming Chen said there had been a “big increase” since 2016.

“The whole year has been quite a lot busier, not only during the peak season but also during the winter.

Fiordland Lakeview Motel owner Illeana Taylor said the change was most obvious during the off-peak months.

“We don’t see it every month, but we certainly do in the shoulder months – we’re already at capacity in summer.

“The off-season is really good now, even in April.”

The rest of Southland kept pace with the national average, sitting at 5 per cent.

Southland Chamber of Commerce president Carla Forbes said while the figures were positive, there was no space for complacency.

“Visitor spend has increased but our market share has slipped – the Southland Regional Development Strategy has set lofty measurable tourism goals to double our tourism dollar income in the whole of the region.

“It is bold and requires confidence, we as a region can not be satisfied with incremental gain – this is about transformational growth.”

Invercargill was the worst-performing territorial authority in the region in terms of growth, experiencing a drop in guest nights in February and only breaking even on tourism spending in March (compared to 2016 figures).

Venture Southland tourism team leader Warrick Low said while there was a continuing growth in the international market in Invercargill, competition for domestic tourists remained a challenge.

“Where our tourism growth is being realised is around the international market.

“The domestic market has always been our bread and butter, but that looks like it’s moving from about 80 per cent and drifting to 70 per cent.

Low said the domestic tourist market was particularly competitive, having to contend not only with other New Zealand destinations but also cheap trans-tasman flights.

While much of the rest of Southland was perceived as an obvious tourist destination, attracting people to Invercargill would be a long-term project, Low said.

“For a long time, the highlights of Southland have always been those environmental mega-attractions.

“Invercargill has always been seen as a hub, we haven’t always celebrated what’s good about Invercargill.

“It’s a long-term game, and it requires buy-in from the community and the business sector.

“We don’t need to be everything to everyone, but we do need to create a distinct and positive story for Invercargill.”