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Older tourists an untapped growth market

Last updated 05:00 16/05/2012

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Northern News

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Ageing tourists are a large market and the Far North could be doing more to accommodate their needs, an expert in accessibility says.

Tiaho Trust chief executive Jonny Wilkinson spoke to Southern Practitioners at the Environmental Management meeting in Kerikeri this month.

His message was clear: More can be done to help tourist dollars flow into the Far North.

Not only is the Far North's population ageing but so is New Zealand's, he told the afternoon crowd.

Mr Wilkinson says 50 per cent of people over 65 have some form of disability: 79 per cent of those over 65 years of age suffer from mobility issues, 39 per cent face hearing disabilities and 14 per cent have visual disabilities.

And he notes that the "baby boomer" generation is coming of age as the generation with the most spending power upon reaching 65 years ever.

Mr Wilkinson says a recent Travelbug survey of more than 11,000 New Zealanders should be taken seriously.

While Queenstown topped the charts for where Kiwis would like to travel next domestically, those over 60 and those with children who are no longer at home ranked Northland number one, the survey says.

Mr Wilkinson highlighted cruises as popular with older tourists. And there was a clear reason for him why.

"It's about the environment they're offering people," he says.

"It's a finite environment so they can build it to cater to certain people."

He says when cruise ships reach a port, however, "the whole environment changes" and he notes that cruise ship operators don't care if their passengers choose to stay on board and spend their money there rather than navigate a potentially inaccessible town.

"No matter how much you design a built environment if people can't use it, it's a failure."

He called attention to the popular Ninety Mile Beach tours and the facilities at Tapotupotu Bay. There are handicap stalls but it's difficult for disabled people to get to them.

For Mr Wilkinson the issue is one of compliance versus usability. He left the practitioners with the message: "If you're going to comply with the building code but don't have the motivation to make it usable, why bother?"

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