Festival lights up central city tills

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 12:58 14/08/2014

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The Light Nelson spectacle drove a huge spike in spending over three days in Nelson city last month, while monthly Paymark figures show that spending across the region is beginning to emerge from the doldrums.

Shoppers and diners boosted business coffers by more than 48 per cent during the final evening of the Light Nelson festival, which attracted a 30,000-strong crowd on one night alone.

Close to 40,000 people enjoyed the free event, which was reduced from three nights to two because of poor weather.

Cathy Madigan, manager of inner-city promotion organisation Uniquely Nelson, said the festival over the weekend of July 11-13 led to some "astonishing figures". Combined with the school holidays and Local Government New Zealand's annual conference, it made for a good July.

"Anecdotally, retailers are a lot happier, and there's certainly been a pickup in spending in July.

"All factors combined led to a good month," Madigan said.

Light Nelson featured illuminated installations by more than 40 artists, mainly in Queen's Gardens, Albion Square and the NMIT campus.

Despite bad weather on the Friday night, $3.6 million was spent in the city over the three-day festival period - a 16.5 per cent increase on the inaugural event last year.

The economic overview by independent market research company Marketview was compiled from electronic payment data from about 460 merchants in the CBD and a further 1180 in the wider city.

The report found that almost 58 per cent of the spending came from Nelson city residents, 22.4 per cent from Tasman district residents, and the remainder from people with cards registered outside the region.

Marketview said the amount spent by visitors was 12.6 per cent higher than last year.

Light Nelson Trust chairman Brian Riley said the figures backed its view that the festival had a solid future.

There was criticism about the crush at this year's event, the result of bad weather and far bigger crowds than the organisers had expected.

The trust had acknowledged the need to change aspects of the event but, based on the economic report's findings, it could "plan ahead with confidence", Riley said.

"We know that what we're doing also supports economic activity in the city."

He said the trust's main aim was to stage an event that had artistic integrity, was widely accessible and positioned the region's artists as innovative.

Nelson Tasman Tourism chief executive Lynda Keene said the growing annual calendar of events such as Light Nelson was "rapidly helping to develop Nelson into a desirable year-round destination".

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Keene said Light Nelson was a "real asset" for the region.

Paymark figures for July, which analyse spending across the whole region, show that the $76m spent last month was a 3.6 per cent increase on July 2013.

Madigan said that despite Nelson being below the national average, signs looked good for the region, particularly after a "soft" June, when spending was 1.1 per cent higher than the previous June.

Total spending via the Paymark network during July was up 6.1 per cent compared to the same period last year.

Madigan warned against looking at the figures in isolation, saying the best indicator of growth was changes in trends.

She said Uniquely Nelson had contracted Marketview to focus on spending in the Nelson CBD, which would help to gauge the effects of free parking in the city. The aim was to compare spending against the same time last year, and also with Richmond.

- The Nelson Mail

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