Businesses prepare for loss of ferries

JARED NICOLL
Last updated 14:48 18/02/2013
John Reuhman
Explore Picton chairman and EcoWorld Aquarium owner John Reuhman

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A group of Picton business owners feel "very positively" about a future without the Cook Strait ferries and are working together to reinvent the town.

The 21 members of Explore Picton, a network of business owners spanning the town's accommodation, tourism and hospitality sectors among others, have been promoting Picton and the Marlborough Sounds through brochures in I-Sites and the online marketing of package tourism deals and will soon set their sights on Canterbury residents.

The group, which is open to new members, was formed in 2011 after central government announced its most recent investigation into the economic feasibility of building a ferry terminal at Clifford Bay, a move which could take ferry passengers, and their potential business, away from Picton.

Group members were spurred on to create deals for Christchurch residents after a Marlborough District Council and Marlborough Chamber of Commerce delegation visited the city at the end of last month and met officials, including members of the Central Christchurch Development Unit, the group leading the rebuild. Explore Picton chairman and EcoWorld Aquarium owner John Reuhman said members felt "very positively" about the proposed ferry terminal move and could see considerable benefits arising from it.

The move would allow Picton businesses to reinvent the town as a tourist destination by working together to offer unique visitor packages to the area. These would be more beneficial in the longterm than relying on ferry passengers, most of whom drove straight through Picton.

"Our immediate opportunity is ‘Rebuild Christchurch'. Picton and the Sounds are Christchurch's natural playground and we wish to present ourselves to Christchurch as such."

Explore Picton committee member and Kippilaw House bed and breakfast owner Margaret McHugh said members began working on creating discount packages for potential Cantabrian holiday-makers after being encouraged to do so during the visit.

Potential plans included travel deals which would see people take the train up to Picton, enjoy entertainment such as the aquarium or a sounds cruise, and accommodation included as a package.

"We've put the brochures out there and that's great but if we've got to go down to Christchurch and visit places then that's what we'll do - a little more effort from private business owners to put Picton on the map.

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"Our survival will rise and fall with us."

Members were also considering the idea of creating their own booking agents instead of relying on the town's I-Site to do it for them, she said.

The group described itself as a marketing collective of like-minded businesses, jointly promoting their businesses based around the motto of "Explore Picton and the Marlborough Sounds" using brochures, websites, posters and signs. Participants volunteer their time and share promotional costs.

It had distributed 30,000 brochures into I-Sites around the South Island and lower North Island, established a web presence at explorepicton.co.nz and aimed to appoint a marketing co-ordinator later this year.

Mr Reuhman began looking for business owners interested in working together to create packages for potential tourists to explore Picton and the Marlborough Sounds after central government announced its most recent investigation into shifting the ferries in 2011.

The group operates separately from Picton Business Group though some business owners are members of both.

- The Marlborough Express

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