In the first of our On the Road series, the Ticker‘s Bridget O’Connell heads north on State Highway 6 to take the pulse of the industry. First stop: Tekapo.
Tekapo Part I
For the third time in three weeks, Tourism Ticker has hit the road. Week one was Dunedin, week two was Wellington, and week three is Nelson with a few stops on the way.
By Tourism Ticker, I mean me, Bridget. I have left my girls, my tomato plants and my betrothed at home and instead have my camera, my phone and my laptop.
So on this trip, the TT Roadie, I will be taking a photo or two of some of the people I meet and the sights I see, as well as writing a few words.
First stop is the family-run Air Safari in Tekapo where I meet genial director Tim Rayward.
Established in 1970, this company’s core business is fixed-wing scenic flights, although it has a helicopter in its fleet too.
Its various routes include showstopping Grand Traverse which takes in the majesty of Aoraki Mount Cook, the Tasman Glacier and the Westland Tai Poutini National Park encompassing the magnificent Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers.
The latest addition to its nine-strong fleet is a $3.7m single engine Cessna Caravan, which Rayward picked up from the United States in October last year when it rolled off the production line.
It was a four-leg flight to get this new plane home from Wichita, Kansas to New Zealand via California, Hawaii and Samoa. An adventure Rayward seems to relish reliving while standing in his civvies in one of the hangars at the company’s Lake Tekapo airport.
The investment this plane represents is a vote of confidence by Rayward in the future of the business and the future of the country’s booming tourism industry.
Questions about summer elicit what I have found to be a common response from weather-dependent operators this season– it’s been good but not as good as it could have been.
“You need the visitors and the weather at the same time” is how Rayward sums it up.
Talk turns to Tekapo’s tourism goldrush. The long-time local, Rayward embodies the tension between a resident wanting to preserve the environment they love to live in and an operator who is well aware his business needs tourists to turnover.
From his vantage point in the sky, Rayward sees first hand the damage caused by freedom campers to lakeside sites which were once only the preserve of locals. The result being they are now closed to all.
Managing things like parking and walkways is essential to managing the bigger picture, according to Rayward, who points to huge improvement the $2m footbridge accessing the tourist-magnet the Church of the Good Shepherd has made to pedestrian and road congestion.
As well as scenic flights, Air Safari offers private and commercial air charter. Enquiries for charter planes are a good barometer of how the global economy is performing, Rayward reckons.
And things are bustling along fairly well at present with enquiries from a good spread of cash-rich and time-poor international visitors, who see it as a better alternative than driving from Christchurch to Queenstown, for example.
He has another measure of how things are performing. And that is simply taking a good look out the window to see what’s happening on State Highway 8.
“I’ll be able to tell you the trend two months before the stats do.” And for someone as experienced in the industry as Rayward, he probably could.