Visitor spending up in Manawatu region

New business ideas cash in on boom

CHRIS HYDE
Last updated 08:25 04/03/2014
India
MURRAY WILSON/FAIRFAX NZ

OPENING DOORS: Nats Subramanian with his wife, Uma Natarajan, are setting up a tourism business to bring people from India to Manawatu to live in rural home-stays.

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Destination Manawatu says next summer could be an "absolute boomer" for tourism in the region, with Statistics New Zealand data already showing widespread growth in both domestic and international visitor spending.

The explosion in motorhome tourism and the influence of cycling are being described as key factors to the growth, which includes a return to annual growth in international tourism spending in Palmerston North for the first time since 2012.

Annual international tourism spending grew in the 12 months to January in all areas of the wider Manawatu, with Horowhenua's spending indicator growing 10.5 per cent, Tararua's 9.6 per cent, Manawatu's 6.5 per cent and Ruapehu's 18.3 per cent.

Palmerston North's growth was modest at just 0.3 per cent, but it was significant as it was just the second time annual spending by international tourists had grown since Freedom Air's international flights were canned in 2008.

The last time year-on-year growth occurred was in a seven-month stretch between February and September 2012.

Domestic visitor spending has continued to grow at the beginning of 2014 - annual growth in Palmerston North was 4.2 per cent, in Tararua it was 5.4 per cent and across the rest of the wider Manawatu it was also up.

This is in contrast to national domestic tourism spending, which was down 0.9 per cent in the 12 months to January.

Destination Manawatu chief executive Lance Bickford said it had been a great summer.

"Tourism numbers are up from China and we know that a lot of regions have focused on China.

"But the moment anybody loses sight of their traditional markets they lose out and what we are seeing is that while everyone else is focusing on China we're getting more and more from the United States and Europe coming through and spending money."

Motorhome owners choosing Manawatu and the Country Road cycle trail were beginning to drive domestic tourism in the region.

"There's 40,000 people who own motorhomes in New Zealand and that's increasing 15 per cent per annum.

"We are actively targeting these guys."

What could make next summer even bigger was the development and marketing of Te Apiti - Manawatu Gorge, Mr Bickford said.

"To have an international standard attraction on our doorstep, once people start realising it, watch this space."

Palmerston North City Council economic policy adviser Peter Crawford said retail spending counted for a massive component of tourism spending in Manawatu, whereas in places like Queenstown a far higher percentage was geared toward straight tourism products.

The data is measured through credit card use.

This meant that growth in tourism was particularly good for the economy in Manawatu, he said.

Interestingly, an upsurge in domestic tourism in Palmerston North, and a decline in domestic tourism in Manawatu District, appear to have coincided with Palmerston North City Council's decision to reduce its parking fines in the central city.

Mr Crawford said while that was the case, a range of factors were at play.

Mr Crawford said the next few months in particular should show growth as the drought had affected tourism spending last year.

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A Palmerston North couple are hoping to welcome an influx of middle-class Indian tourists to rural farmstays in Manawatu.

Nats Subramanian and Uma Natarajan have quit high-paying jobs at Palmerston North information technology companies and are focusing their energy on developing their tourism start-up TakeMe2TheWorld.

The idea formed in April last year when they began TakeMe2India - taking New Zealanders on tours to India.

Now they have trademarked the brand TakeMe2 and are launching TakeMe2Japan, TakeMe2SouthAmerica and potentially more in future.

But the big focus currently is on attracting Indians to rural accommodation in Manawatu, hopefully as early as May.

"Our biggest goal for the brand is to stay away from the overwhelmingly popular tourist attractions and offer something unique and something niche," Mr Subramanian said.

"We love Palmerston North and Manawatu - there's so much here that even as locals we are still discovering and we want others to see that."

Indian city folk who had travelled but never experienced life on the farm would be the focus, Mrs Natarajan said.

"In Indian cities even having a small garden is a luxury, so seeing a thousand acres of farmland is a novelty and something that they will have never experienced before." Despite the fact that the target market was specific, the couple said they were confident it would attract the numbers they were after.

"It's a niche market but that's in a market of 1.2 billion people," Mr Subramanian said.

With tourism spending beginning to trend upward in Manawatu it was the right time to launch into the market, he said.

"We think it's only a matter of time before we get the international airport back.

"We're very excited."

- Manawatu Standard

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