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When the region goes into cruisy summer mode, Steve Edwards goes into overdrive. Along with his wife Jeanette, he owns three holiday parks - Motueka Top 10 Holiday Park, Nelson City Holiday Park and Fox Glacier Top 10 Holiday Park - that can have 1220 guests at the height of summer.
They employ 27 staff and with four young daughters and lots of community involvement, Steve doesn't get out on his mountainbike as much as he would like.
Last Friday night Steve and Jeanette dressed up for the Westpac Nelson Tasman Business Awards, where their Motueka park was a finalist for the Nelson Pine Industries Service Excellence Award and the Wakatu Incorporation Innovation Award and this week Steve sat down with the Leader in the Motueka park's new three-bedroom, $350-a-night apartment for a behind-the-scenes look at the business of holidays.
How did you get into the holiday park business?
My wife Jeanette co-owned a holiday park in Wellington. We met in London when I was driving buses for Contiki and she was working in the office. When I came back to New Zealand I had a marine engineering business and I often joked that Jen should have got out of the holiday park business and got into the engineering business. Nine months later we'd sold the engineering business and bought the holiday park in Motueka. That was 10 years ago.
I came down to do a three-day kayak trip in the Abel Tasman and fell in love with it. I saw Keith Knapp's boats [Abel Tasman Sea Shuttle] going up and down the park and thought, "that's me". I brought my engineering gear down and 10 years later it's still sitting in a container. I do want to get back into the engineering but with four kids and three holiday parks, there ain't much time for me.
What do like about the holiday park game?
The people. For the one grumpy person who shouldn't have gone on holiday in the first place, there are 2000 who are fantastic. Even if they do turn up stressed and wound up, it's good to get them relaxed. Especially Christchurch customers, who can be so wound up they're ready to shoot somebody and after three days they're so relaxed we've got to kick them to get them to move.
What brings them to you?
Ninety per cent of our international guests in Motueka are here to see the Abel Tasman but there's a massive domestic audience that needs to be educated. They know about Nelson but they don't know what we've got out here. They drive out to Motueka and are gob-smacked. They go, "Why aren't we staying here?"
How can we extend the tourist season to spread the benefits further?
I'd like to see more events. A classic example was the primary schools Seddon Shield tournament in the first week of the July school holidays. That first week the town was buzzing but in the second week there were no events and the town was deserted. If we had an event every month, I wouldn't need a winter overdraft.
How do we generate those events?
A community pool in Motueka would bring water polo, canoe polo, synchronised swimming competitions, swim camps - and those tend to be in winter, when we need it. You bring people to town for events like those and they have to eat somewhere, they have to buy their sporting goods or whatever somewhere. Research shows that international guests in holiday parks spend $187 a day per person and domestic tourists spend $86 and only 17 per cent of that is spent at the holiday park. The rest is going to other businesses.
What's the key difference between your three locations?
Fox Glacier has all-year trade. When we're doing three vans a night in the middle of winter, we're doing 20 down there.
Why is that?
It's on the tourist route. It's got an international following. I question if the Abel Tasman has lost some of its sex appeal over the years. Also, there are currently 53 flights a week less coming into Christchurch than before the earthquakes, and 27 more into Queenstown. If you take 10 days out of Queenstown in a van, they just don't get this far north.
If you were the Minister of Tourism, what's the one thing NZ would do to improve tourism?
Spend more money on telling people what we have here. Nelson Tasman Tourism gets roughly $250,000 from each council to market the area to the world and they're fighting over that. Tourism NZ recently did an investigation and went into a travel agent in Kuala Lumpur and found the NZ brochures were 23 years old. Tourism NZ has $30 million to spend marketing NZ to the world and they're excited about that. But to put that in perspective, Dove soap is currently spending half a billion to grow their market in the US alone.