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Reinvigorating Wellington as a tourism destination

By David Perks 27 Feb 2018

Te Papa exterior

Three decades ago Wellington was a place you’d visit only if you had business in the beltway. Now it makes for a colourful cosmopolitan short break for Kiwis, who account for around two-thirds of our 3.4 million annual visitors.

Wellington is also becoming a sought-after destination for international travellers, half of whom are Australians. But compared with Auckland and Queenstown, Wellington still lags behind as a must-visit spot for global visitors.

A solution for visitor congestion

Clearly, smaller localities around the country are being overrun with tourists. Wellington is well-positioned to take the pressure off these tourism hot spots with a distinctive offering.

We have a plethora of museums, galleries and other attractions which are either free or competitively priced. Wellington’s entire CBD is walkable, packed with cafes, restaurants, hotels, craft beer and wine bars, with events happening all over the place.

Tourists are looking for experiences where they visit favourite local spots to get the vibe of what it’s like to live there. It’s what made European cities global visitor destinations and Wellington delivers that insider experience in bucket-loads.

Luring international travellers

But we face considerable challenges to grow tourism, particularly from China and other parts of Asia. Part of the challenge is most of these travellers arrive through Auckland and we must tempt them to commit to Wellington before they leave their homeland. Clearly this is working – the numbers have grown consistently since Te Papa opened its doors two decades ago.

WREDA has a dedicated team, working alongside Tourism New Zealand, putting in the hard yards visiting international cities and convincing travel agents to put Wellington on their schedules.

This year WREDA will refocus the range of markets in which we promote Wellington. We aim to attract more visitors from Asia, increase visitor spending across Wellington businesses, and share the best stories of Wellington with the world.

More hotels, better infrastructure

The next big jump in Wellington tourism may come with the proposed Movie Museum and Convention Centre. It’s expected to reel in hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, while the convention centre is expected to attract 65,000 new delegate days to the city each year.

Another catalyst, particularly for domestic tourism, would be the proposed new Indoor Arena for concerts and other big events. WREDA is currently working on a feasibility study on behalf of all councils in the region.

As tourism grows, more hotels will be required. History shows us that from 2000 to 2010 the number of hotels in the CBD roughly doubled while the occupancy rate stayed at about 70 per cent.

Today, CBD hotel occupancy has climbed beyond 80 per cent. While that appears as if there’s 20 per cent free, nearly all available beds are on Sunday nights. For much of the year the CBD is effectively full from Monday through to Sunday morning.

Expect to see existing hotels expand and new hotels built if the Museum and Convention Centre gets the green light.

Historically, the reinvention of Wellington as a tourism destination was as much about making Wellingtonians enjoy themselves in their own city as attracting tourists. The catalyst was investment in world class infrastructure and iconic events.

These principles formed the backbone of the city’s reinvention as one of the great city destinations and must be reinvigorated as we look to shape the future of Wellington.

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