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Tourism update: after the Kaikoura quake

By Jo 15 Dec 2016

Visitor Spending in the Wellington region YE Oct 2016
Visitor spending in Wellington region (MBIE)

2016 has been another strong year for tourism in Wellington, with MBIE’s latest visitor spending estimates showing an 8.7% growth across the region in the year to October, for a total of $2.3 billion.

Domestic visitor spending is up a solid 7%, with International spending rising very quickly at more than 12% for the year.

Of course, this data is not yet tracking any effects of the Kaikoura earthquake.

However, in the meantime we thought you’d appreciate an update on our response and recovery activity.

Assessing the impact

Following the shake on Nov 14, we immediately gathered information from partners in the region, to establish that everyone was safe and find out the impacts to accommodation and tourism operations.

Fortunately, damage was minimal. Some accommodation properties had rooms to clean up or repair, but all were open for business.

We received no reports of significant damage to any tours or attractions. Te Papa closed briefly for clean up and checks, Westpac Stadium postponed one Phoenix game for clean up, and the venues WREDA manages were inspected by engineers and deemed safe to host their scheduled performances and business events.

In terms of passenger transport, Wellington Airport continued operations virtually uninterrupted, roads were clear (apart from that brief episode with the flooding mid-week), while CentrePort worked hard to get Cook Strait ferry operations back up to full capacity, and ensure the cruise ship schedule could go ahead as planned. 

Open for business

Our next task was to get the word out that Wellington’s tourism sector was safe and open for business.

We went direct to all our national and international travel trade networks, providing daily reassurance, information and updates. We did this at a personal level wherever possible and worked with Tourism New Zealand to leverage their reach and volume internationally. 

We managed and assured major event and conference partners that forward bookings could, and should, be kept in place.  And we regularly spoke to the media, providing a positive outlook, to balance the extensive coverage focusing on damage and loss of income.

We also produced a number of videos to show that the city was in good shape. 

As you’ll remember, there was widespread misinformation, particularly offshore. Many of you will have received concerned calls and emails from people overseas, worried that this had been another event like Christchurch in 2011.

Our strategy was to use clear communication of factual information as a kind of ‘antiseptic’, to prevent the bloom of doubt, fear and speculation. 

Looking forward

We know from the economic impact of the Seddon earthquake in July 2013 that events which draw attention to Wellington’s seismology can cast a shadow over tourism. In the twelve months following Seddon tourism in the Wellington region was down approximately 2%. The downturn was primarily domestic (around -3.5%), with international guest nights showing a very small gain.

While the November quake was clearly more significant for Wellington, we have factors in our favour that weren’t in play three years ago, which we believe will lessen the negative economic impact on our tourism sector.

Firstly, we’re going into summer. Some businesses are understandably concerned about the impact on this critical season. Pre-November, forward bookings were signalling a possible record summer, and we may not hit those heights. However, while accommodation partners reported immediate cancellations in the weeks following the quake, they’re now expressing cautious optimism that these booking flows are recovering.

A successful summer season with plenty of people enjoying Wellington will act as a ‘reset button’, pushing thoughts of quake coverage into a 2016 that many people are happy to bring the curtain down on. From a reputation perspective this is a big plus.

We also have an outstanding summer events line-up. The first quarter of 2017 will see Nick Cave, The Pixies, PJ Harvey, Passenger, 21 Pilots and Guns ‘n’ Roses as well as Jim Beam Homegrown.  Sports-wise we have a revitalised Sevens Wellington and Black Caps v South Africa ODI at Westpac Stadium and test matches at the Basin. These will attract tens of thousands to Wellington at a time of year when the region looks its very best.

To cap it off, we have the two British and Irish Lions Tour matches in winter, which, judging by the massive pre-bookings, will be another bonanza for the sector.

We’ve also all learned since Seddon that we can’t just carry on as normal following an event like this. We have to be proactive, as a Regional Tourism Organisation, and as an industry.

Response and recovery

Many operators will have revised their marketing budgets and brought resources forward to encourage visitation over summer. It’s more important than ever to get those enticing offers in front of your potential customers.

Similarly, WREDA has upweighted our summer campaign spend, across print, cinema, outdoor and digital (see one in the series of campaign videos to the left). We’ve also increased our scheduled media and promotional activity in support of those key summer events, as these will act as important triggers to get people planning a visit to Wellington.

We have other out of region campaigns in market for Te Papa’s Bug Lab and we’ve invested in City Gallery’s promotion of its Cindy Sherman exhibition. And our ‘always on’ marketing activity including social media, e-newsletters, digital content and PR is communicating the many great reasons to visit Wellington this summer. 

Our international travel trade contacts are telling us the vast majority of clients who had booked a New Zealand holiday are keeping their plans to visit here. But we’re also very aware of doing what we can to ensure the future booking pipeline remains robust.

This means helping build itineraries around new air connectivity, to increase our share of New Zealand’s strong international visitor growth and lessen our reliance on domestic. And, we’re looking at options for resourcing a whole new campaign for the Autumn-Winter season, above and beyond our current budgets, to keep those visitors flowing into the region, and spending in your businesses.

Wellington tourism has tremendous momentum, and we believe that this event will effectively be a speed bump. We’ll definitely feel it - but it won’t last for a long time. Our thoughts are with tourism colleagues in Kaikoura, (as we’re sure yours are), who are facing a much tougher battle.

That said, we appreciate that everyone’s situation is different, and a speed bump for our industry as a whole could come at a very bad time for an individual operator.

If you have concerns about your business, get in touch and we’ll arrange a catch up with one of our team. Just email [email protected]

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