Kapiti Island fees reviewed after sharp decline in visitors

KAY BLUNDELL
Last updated 05:00 13/06/2014

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Conservation Minister Nick Smith has confirmed the Kapiti Island visitor fee and tourism structure is being reviewed in the wake of plummeting visitor numbers.

The review follows a sharp decline in visitor numbers since fees were increased in February last year from about $190 to $300 for a family of four.

Smith said the Conservation Department was reviewing fees, and ways of attracting more visitors, while protecting the pest-free nature reserve.

The fees were increased to help pay for improvements on the island, including upgrading the sewerage system and visitor kiosk, and providing flushing toilets.

But figures show only 283 people visited the island in January this year, compared with 1569 in January 2013.

Visitor numbers dropped sharply in February last year, rebounded in March and fell again from April to June.

DOC said numbers for the past six months were not publicly available but were being included in the review.

Smith told a business meeting in Kapiti recently that fees needed to be more affordable so all New Zealanders could access the native reserve.

He said he was worried they had been overpriced and taken the experience away from people.

Kapiti Marine Charter owner Ross Leger, who provides boat transport to the island, said visitor numbers had dropped drastically, but he had kept going by providing school trips.

"As far as the average Kiwi family going, it is not good for them. Considering the minister has admitted they have got it wrong, perhaps they could drop the fees altogether until they get the numbers up again and let the New Zealand public visit their island again," he said.

Kapiti Island Nature Tours operator John Barrett, who runs tours and a homestay business on private land at the northern end of the island, said his visitor numbers had increased by about 20 per cent over the past two years.

"Our business in overnight stays and day tours is growing - we are getting a piece of the market where people can pay a bit more.

"The guys who do not participate in this market are having a tough time.

"Their product is lower-cost but, because DOC put their prices up, it makes it more difficult for them. We would like to see a Kapiti Island product that is good for everyone."

Kapiti Company managing director Chris Barber said it was fantastic the minister was looking into the issue, "making sure we have got it right".

It was not just a matter of the fee structure, he said. "Kapiti Island is internationally significant. There is nowhere else like it in the world . . . we cannot undervalue that."

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Smith is expected to announce review results within the next few weeks.

- The Dominion Post

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