Whanganui & Partners’ tourism lead Lyn Cheyne on why the region deserves better recognition, the dearth of domestic insight and the impact that the Whanganui River’s new legal status could have on tourism.
One development of great interest in the region is the global publicity and reputation that has been generated around the legal status of the Whanganui River as an entity in its own right. The interest from around the world in that has been phenomenal.
Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui is the trust that is overseeing the activities, publicity and promotions around the river, or awa, and its legal environment and they have been inundated with requests for information, for visits, and for imagery.
This really is going to be quite significant for the region and we are only at the early stages of understanding its implications for tourism.
Local iwi view tourism as an important part of their future and are focusing on educating and upskilling their youth and providing opportunities for them to enter the tourism market. There are numerous marae up the Whanganui River so the possibilities are immense.
Imagine being out on the awa in a waka, listening to the waiata of the crew and being taught how to paddle. That is a real spine-tingling and emotional experience and I believe we are going to see more of that here. They will be truly special experiences for people coming to visit the region.
However, Whanganui does not want to be a rival to Rotorua in terms of Māori culture – it wants to be an added extension into some very authentic experiences within the Māori culture and lifestyle.
We are looking for more product and more investment in tourism here. That is something we are spending quite a lot of time on at the moment, talking to our neighbouring regions about how we are engaging and working towards stimulating the domestic market and regional dispersal.
I would really like to see a lot more emphasis on regional dispersal and some really cohesive plans developed to enable those communities that are not overflowing with tourists, that want to grow, that have the resources and the natural environment, to take those first steps to creating more product and attracting more investment.
There is very little funding available from national government to help the smaller regions develop. There is advice and support but in terms of funding for regions that are still trying to boost visitor numbers and develop product, they are generally left to their own devices. It is up to the regional tourism organisations (RTO) and local government bodies within each region to do the heavy lifting.
There has been a lack of cohesive national planning and a lack of understanding about what it takes to deliver on the ground when it comes to tourism in the regions. Tourism New Zealand does an incredible job at bringing people into the country, that is their mandate and they have been very successful at it.
However, there has been insufficient domestic market research and insight into understanding how New Zealanders travel around the country.
Different national organisations have their tourism strategies or future policies or frameworks but in many cases they have forgotten to talk to the people on the ground – the RTOs and the local authorities who are actually engaged.
We try to work closely with the Ruapehu, Manawatu and Taranaki regions to encourage people to come to this coast of the North Island.
We have an advantage in a way because we are very new to the international market. Overseas visitors who have been to New Zealand before may not know of Whanganui so if they are looking for something different, something new and enjoyable and relaxing, we are a great place to come to.
People who have never visited Whanganui, either the district or the city itself, are always surprised at how beautiful it is – the heritage buildings, the independent and boutique shops, the natural environment. We must be one of the few places in New Zealand with a wonderful, majestic river and three easily accessible beaches close to the city as well.
Once people visit, they have their minds completely turned around about what is available here.
The region deserves a lot better recognition than it has had and it has suffered from some negative publicity, which has cast a shadow over all the wonderful things that are here.
For us, the major challenge is really just getting people to think of Whanganui as a place they want to come to and spend some time in. That has not always been the first thought on people’s minds so we need to remind them that we are here and we are a great destination for a weekend away.
There is a lot to do, it is very pretty, it is very friendly and there are fantastic things to see that you would not see anywhere else in New Zealand.