More French saying oui to Manawatu

French tourists are the creme de la creme of Manawatu's tourism sector at present, with a magnifique 110 per cent growth in overall French visitor spending in the past 12 months.

Growth has been particularly strong in the past three months - up 243 per cent in March on the same time in 2013, up 272 per cent in February, and up 273 per cent in January.

French spending here, measured by electronic card use, was last month the fourth-highest of any country's at $42,600, behind only the traditionally strong Manawatu tourism markets of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

There have never been more French tourists in Palmerston North than now, according to Alliance Francaise, which encourages the study of French language and culture.

President Isabelle Poff-Pencole said the practice of "Wwoofing" (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) was becoming a popular option for French people on working holiday visas.

"The French that are in the region, they're all young, they're under 30, and they're doing their OE and there's opportunities for them to do it here volunteering and getting free board on a farm."

Poff-Pencole said Massey University work placements and internships for the French were increasing.

Older tourists would make a detour to visit the New Zealand Rugby Museum in the city and ride The Country Road cycle trail, developed by Destination Manawatu, Poff-Pencole said.

Palmerston North City Council economic policy adviser Peter Crawford said the increase was surprising.

For the past three months, French tourists had spent more in the city than they did during the Rugby World Cup, he said.

Overall spending in the region remained strong, with a 6.8 per cent increase on the same time last year across the Paymark network in March, the equal second-highest increase in New Zealand.

That was likely to slow in the coming month, with a late Easter and a late Massey University semester break expected to quieten spending in the city in April, Crawford said.

The effects of the dry weather might also slow spending, he said.

Manawatu Standard