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Patiently waiting . . . Tourism Waitaki general manager Margaret Munro is looking forward to welcoming international tourists back to the district. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE
There is light at the end of the tourism tunnel.
Last week, the Government announced that from April 12, vaccinated Australians can travel to New Zealand without isolation, and as of May 1, fully vaccinated travellers from about 60 countries on a visa›waiver list will be able to arrive.
Tourism Waitaki general manager Margaret Munro is looking forward to welcoming international tourists back to the Waitaki district, but expects it will take a while for numbers to return to pre›pandemic levels.
Mrs Munro expected the first travellers to be friends and family of people in New Zealand, followed by people from countries who had direct flights to New Zealand, such as Australia and North America.
‘‘I can see travel agents being leaned on quite heavily so Isee that industry rebounding back quite quickly to deal with that. Hopefully, we can get a travel agent back in Oamaru.’’
In 2019-2020, international tourists poured $16 million into the Waitaki economy. Without that injection, the accommodation sector had been hit the hardest.
Prior to Covid-19, the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony’s market was predominantly international tourists — attracting from 75,000 to 90,000 a year — most of whom stayed at least a night in Oamaru, Mrs Munro said.
Businesses could take a while to switch back into gear and it was unclear what the guided tour market would look like, she said.
‘‘Scaling up some businesses is going to be a challenge for probably quite some time.
‘‘It’s not going to be easy even just for the airlines just to bring back staff, retrain, it takes time — everyone will be fighting for a limited supply of staff.’’
There were a lot of unknowns, especially surrounding the type of tourist visiting Waitaki, and how ‘‘re›imagining tourism’’ would work.
Before the border closure, international tourists had been spending less on souvenirs, and more on experiences.
‘‘That’s where the offering for the Waitaki actually fit perfectly. . .because it’s very nature- driven, got lots of biodiversity and cultural offerings,’’ Mrs Munro said.
‘‘Places where people can sit, appreciate it’s away from that cluttered lifestyle in a city. People like to reconnect to those parts of our past, especially in today’s environment with what is safe and within someone’s comfort zone.’’
Oamaru’s Victorian precinct, the penguin colony, Moeraki boulders, Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, Lake Ohau Snow Fields, and the architecture were all ‘‘big drawcards’’. Cycle tourism was trending globally and Mrs Munro could see the interest in Alps 2 Ocean only growing in the future.
The district’s exposure in Netflix films The Power of the Dog and The Royal Treatment could also generate also generate film tourism.
‘‘That exposure’s worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for nothing, and to have [the Victorian precinct] so visible . . . it’s huge, it’s brilliant.”
Omarama’s Clay Cliff featured in country music artist Kaylee Bell’s new music video, and in Tourism New Zealand’s ‘‘Do Something Autumn’’ promotional campaign. Hot Tubs Omarama also featured in the new Tourism New Zealand campaign.
‘‘We’re working quite closely with them so we can get that reconnection.’’
As New Zealand waited for international tourists to return, Mrs Munro said everyone could play their part by supporting local.
‘‘Local hospitality and that domestic travelling so that we’re supporting other small regional towns while they get themselves scaled back up or businesses within them can.’’