One year on from last year’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake, Destination Kaikoura’s general manager, Glenn Ormsby, says it has been a difficult recovery and, despite hopes among operators for a good summer, challenges remain.
It’s been a long, tough year since the earthquake last November, but there have definitely been a lot of positives come out of the first 12 months of our recovery.
The two biggest milestones that we have been working towards over this time have been getting a date confirmed for the re-opening of State Highway 1 north of Kaikoura, and the opening of the new marina
The announcement of Friday 15th December for this coastal highway link from Picton to Christchurch re-opening and the opening of the harbour this week means things are starting to look up again.
We are a “through destination”, if you like, and we went from being one and half hours from Blenheim or Picton, to more like seven and a half – that has obviously made a huge difference to the number of visitors that have been coming to town and the amount they have been spending.
Last summer spend was down by 80%, and the latest figures from the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment show domestic and international visitor annual spend in the year to September was down by almost half to $63m.
You can imagine how tough it has been for operators throughout this year. Some of them, like Kaikoura Kayaks for example, were able to get back to business straight away. By February this year around 80% of our local tourism business and 90% of our retail and hospitality businesses had re-opened but were still – and are still – dealing with far fewer visitors.
To now have certainty that all systems are go for the summer period and to be able to communicate that to industry – to all our partners, to trade, and to the domestic market, is a good feeling.
That kind of communication formed a large part of what we have been doing over the last year. Keeping everyone informed of what has been going on the ground here and trying to get the message out that Kaikoura is open for business.
We have run a number of campaigns off the back of the $650,000 of government funding we received to help a strong early marketing push for the 2017/18 season.
This included the launch of a campaign to promote the 450km Alpine Pacific Touring Route that runs between Christchurch, Kaikoura and Hanmer Springs, heading through the Waipara Valley in North Canterbury.
Although this campaign was aimed at encouraging both international and domestic travellers visitors on the four-day itinerary, we have also focused a lot on the domestic market during the year.
Early signs are that all of these measures are working and we’re feeling pretty positive about summer. When I talk to operators most of them are saying that forward bookings are looking strong – it can’t be any worse than last summer anyway!
There will be some challenges of course. One thing we are watching out for is accommodation. Although 80% of all our accommodation is open, there are a lot of rebuild workers who come and stay in town.
The upside of this is that the visitor length of stay in Kaikoura has actually got longer – it’s gone from 1.6 nights on average to 2.38 nights. However, it means that we don’t know exactly how much accommodation is available for other visitors. The rebuild has also affected the local workforce and the availability of staff. In some situations, accommodation providers have vacant rooms but they can’t let all of them as they don’t have a cleaner anymore.
We are working with the council and the rebuild authorities to monitor this situation and are working together to make sure we are all on the same page.
We have had some fantastic help and support from right across this industry over the past year. Right from the start, we got some great advice from Christchurch Airport and Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism about what worked for them and what didn’t in terms of actions to take and how best to communicate – they shared their lessons so it meant we didn’t have to learn the hard way.
And it’s has not just been professional help, but support from regular Cantabs living in Christchurch getting in touch or visiting to say they know what we are going through and supporting us the whole way.
And of course, support from the industry from Tourism New Zealand, TIA and the KE-TAG Group, RTONZ and TEC NZ. We are so thankful to all our industry partners for all their assistance – it has been quite humbling to be honest.
And new opportunities have come out of the earthquake – there have been some operators putting together new tours and the new marina includes a tender berth for cruise ships.
It’s a little bit soon for us to think about that for this summer, but going forward it is a fantastic assets for us to make a real push into the growing cruise market.