The decision to scrap monthly accommodation figures has come at a bad time, Tourism Waitaki general manager Margaret Munro says.
According to the latest Stats NZ accommodation figures, guest nights in the Waitaki district fell by 12.8%, or 6573 fewer visitor nights, in March 2019 compared with the same month a year ago.
That was consistent with figures for the rest of New Zealand, which showed a “levelling off” of tourist numbers, Mrs Munro said, and could have also been affected by the March mosque attacks in Christchurch.
Last week, Stats NZ announced it will be scrapping the recording of visitor accommodation data in September because of cost pressures. The data provides a monthly analysis of tourist accommodation and can be broken down by region, revealing how many guest nights each region had and how long visitors stayed.
Mrs Munro said the survey was Tourism Waitaki’s most important piece of data.
“It seems crazy that, on one hand, the Government said recently it would take a more active role in tourism, while taking away this funding with the other.
“Two million dollars isn’t much compared to the $16 billion tourism industry.
“You are really basing investment on this sort of data, and having nothing is high-risk.”
The online sharing economy, such as Airbnb, was not monitored, so there had been a gap in the information as the size of that sector had grown, but Mrs Munro was concerned there was no immediate replacement to monitor trends and plan for the future.
“If they take away this survey, it is going to be leaving New Zealand’s biggest industry in a catch-22 situation – because we don’t have anything to give to tourism providers, and any potential investors are basing investment on this sort of data.
“If this data fails and there is nothing else for a year, any economic growth will come to a grinding halt in the regions.
“You would have to be a brave investor to put money into an area without knowing how many people are going there.”
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is working with the tourism industry to provide a short-term solution for recording tourism data, while a longer-term product is being developed.
To suggestions the Waitaki district could collate its own data, Mrs Munro said costs were too high and it would not be directly comparable to national data, due to inconsistencies in methodology.
The softening in overseas visitor numbers in New Zealand was most likely due to greater uncertainty in the world, she said.
“Things like Brexit, things happening in America – there are a whole lot of influences that affect whether people travel or not.
“Travel is one of the first disposable income things that get cut if you are in doubt with what is happening.”