Festival boon for hospitality

It still has nearly two weeks to go but the New Zealand Festival is already on track to prove a bonanza for Wellington's economy - though not everyone is happy.

Hospitality leaders said custom around the first week of the 24-day festival, previously known as the New Zealand International Arts Festival, had been at least as good as the 2012 festival, which had an economic impact of $56 million.

Wellington hospitality's "summer season" - including the rugby sevens, Homegrown, the Fringe Festival and the NZ Festival - had contributed to strong hotel occupancy levels.

Restaurant Association national president Mike Egan, of Wellington, said he wished the festival was held every year.

"The people I have spoken to said it is the best [New Zealand] festival yet in terms of business."

Egan said the success was partly due to positive news on the national economy which had seen some loosen their purse strings.

Hospitality NZ branch president Jeremy Smith said the "summer season" was "definitely the time of plenty for the hospitality industry".

Feedback he had received indicated the festival would provide the city with a cracker financial return.

"A lot of that is from the hotels. The hotels have been trucking along exceptionally well occupancy-wise."

Positively Wellington Tourism chief executive David Perks said February had been a "ripper of a month" for hoteliers.

"Possibly as strong as it's ever been. It is also looking very strong heading into March.

"There does seem to be a general feeling across the service sector in Wellington that the festival has brought just as much, if not more, business this time round than last time."

But Soup Fashion Recovery clothing shop owner Marie Jephson could hardly believe the council had dug up Blair St during the festival.

"You have never met a more disgruntled lot than the shop owners and restaurateurs on Blair St. We are incredulous about the timing."

She also said the festival vibe seemed to be subdued this year.

"There is no buzz about the festival, no banners, nothing."

But NZ Festival executive director Sue Paterson argued that there was a "high level of festival awareness and buzz around the city".

"The Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular and The Big Bang created a high octane opening weekend which helped kick-start the festival in style."

Ticket sales had so far been similar to 2012 when 110,000 tickets were sold, she said.

"Many of the events have sold well with some sell-outs in all genres from US singer Madeleine Peyroux to theatre-based Black Faggot and Unmythable."

Free events had also been well attended, Paterson said.

There were 165,000 attendees at free festival events in 2012.

Wellington City Council economic spokeswoman Jo Coughlan said statistics showed that the city's GDP for the year to March 2013 grew by the national average of 2.6 per cent, which ranked it 17th among 66 authorities.

"We are definitely open for business and we think these numbers - that's the growth in GDP along with the huge support for the kind of events and activities that are going on in the city - show that's the case.

"The naysayers have had the wrong end of the stick for a while . . . I think there's a lot of momentum and the city is heading in the right direction," Coughlan said.