BOP tourist industry Explores new direction

Kristin Dunne

Kristin Dunne: Photo/Tourism BOP

The good news for the Coastal Bay of Plenty is that tourists spent a record $1 billion last year. The less good news – at least for some business ratepayers – is that Tourism Bay of Plenty is seeking increased annual council funding of around $620,000 to help support a new and better targeted approach.

Tourism BOP says the increase would make its funding more aligned with other similar-sized Regional Tourism Organisations (RTOs).

And it would underpin its efforts to drill down and gain a better understanding of exactly who comes to the region and why, and to transition from largely promotional activities to what the industry describes as destination management.

“It would be reckless to allow this level of growth without a considered management plan. We are aiming to grow the visitor economy on our terms, with the right visitors at the right time, for the benefit of the region,” said Tourism BOP chief executive Kristin Dunne.

“Destination management is the coordinated management of all the elements that make up a region. It is the key to controlling tourism’s environmental impacts and preserving the region’s unique identity.”

Dunne told Bay of Plenty Business News the move was part of a long-term strategy that was attempting to balance growth with a solid management plan. As part of this process, the tourism body has put together a 10-year Visitor Economy Strategy. This has forecast that the visitor economy will grow by more than 50 percent by 2028, positioning tourism as one of the larger economic contributors to the region.

“The additional funding will allow us to do a lot more research so that we can better understand the visitors and we could be making insight-led decisions. That’s really at the heart of destination management – it’s making sure we understand who the visitors are, where they’re coming from, and what they need.”

The reality was that currently the research data was very poor, Dunne said. The BOP is a region with many entry and exit points, making measurement of visitors difficult.

But she emphasized that this wasn’t just a BOP problem, but a national one.

Regional Tourism New Zealand says current ways of thinking about tourism development are “not fit for purpose” and tourism needs to be on the agenda of every council around the country.

Executive officer Charles Ives says increased growth in tourism will place pressure on the regions, which has to be anticipated before it has a negative effect on communities.

“Tourism – perhaps more than any other industry – touches the whole community and while most New Zealanders overall are still comfortable with the industry, we are already seeing early indicators of pressure such as overcrowding and negative reactions to Freedom Campers,” he says.

“These are warnings of the impact tourism can have on us, if we don’t have a planned, developed and managed approach.”

A core facet of destination management is solid visitor insights to best understand a visitor economy and its visitors, said Dunne.

If the additional funding it has applied for through Tauranga City Council’s Long Term Plan is approved, significant insights work into visitor numbers and visitors themselves would be undertaken, enabling it to best utilise its marketing dollar in targeting the right visitors to visit at the right time.

“All we really know with confidence is how much visitors are spending – we don’t know where they’re coming from or who they are, with any confidence,” said Dunne.

“We are working with all the stakeholders who are involved in tourism, of which there are many, and we’re looking out the next 10 years to say, of what visitors have told us they want, what is it we need to deliver in the next decade to give them a good visitor experience.”

Dunne said the industry was currently very demand-oriented. “We just get people here in as many numbers as we can. The other side is the supply side – what experiences do we deliver, what products are there, what products should there be?”

Some observers are critical of the limited range of activities available to visitors to Tauranga – beyond visiting the beaches and Mount Maunganui – especially in contrast to Rotorua’s range of well-developed activities and events programme.

Rotorua Economic Development chief executive Michelle Templer says Rotorua has continued to add new products to ensure they keep pace with the changing wants and needs of visitors. (see pages 21 and 22)
Max Mason, chair of the TCC’s economic development committee, says the council is well aware the tourism body wants to change its role from not only promoting, but managing the region. There are a number of negative aspects to tourism, including increased freedom camping and traffic issues.
“They want to base their future development on insights, so a lot of visitor research needs to occur,” said Mason.

Ovation of the Seas: At Tauranga. Photo/Katie Cox, Tourism BOP

Ovation of the Seas: At Tauranga. Photo/Katie Cox, Tourism BOP

“At the moment, most of their insights about where people come from and their impact is done in those overseas markets. One of the really important bits of information that we don’t have, for example, is how many people visit Tauranga to see friends and relatives. We know it’s a massive amount, but we don’t really know how much.”

Tauranga Chamber of Commerce Chief executive Stan Gregec said he was in principle supportive of something that at least reflected a more targeted approach to council funding.

“We are a membership-based organisation that is a proxy for the business community,” he said.

“Tourism BOP is 100-per cent funded by councils and we have been asked to support them getting another $620,000 a year. Clearly it’s the general business community that is going to have to pay for this eventually through rates. But at least it would be an example of a targeted rate so we would know in theory where those funds were going to be spent.”

He was speaking in the context of the current opposition by many in the business community to the proposed shift to businesses paying higher rates.

“We do understand there is a national formula for tourist organisations and Tourism BOP has a bit of catchup to do. I support the destination management approach. But their focus till now has been on promoting, and they’ve done very little to coordinate what happens at this end. I would have thought, given the money they have been getting for external promotion for years, that it would have been a good idea to have done some of that analysis already.”

Tourism BOP is mandated to promote the territories of its funding councils, which include Tauranga City, Western Bay of Plenty District and Whakatane District. Tourism BOP refers to this collection of territories as the “Coastal Bay of Plenty” and it stretches from Waihi Beach to Ohope Beach, and as far inland as the Kaimai Range, the Whirinaki Forest and part of Te Urewera. Destination Rotorua, now part of Rotorua Economic Development, is the key organisation managing tourism in the Rotorua region. (Click here to read)