Ferry issues dent Xmas spend

IT'S IMMINENT: Justin Sellers, Sign Crew installer, with some of the Christmas decorations going up in the plam tress at Morrison Square.
IT'S IMMINENT: Justin Sellers, Sign Crew installer, with some of the Christmas decorations going up in the plam tress at Morrison Square.

Ferry problems keeping tourists away from Nelson may account for less than expected growth in spending in the region, says a business leader.

Spending in Nelson in the first week of December is up 5.9 per cent on last year, but that increase is not up with the national average of 8.6 per cent.

Paymark figures also show that Nelson spending is up 6.5 per cent in November compared to the same time last year, which is on a par with the national rise of 6.8 per cent.

However, in the previous spring months Nelson spending had been stronger, and Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce chief executive Dot Kettle believes the Cook Strait ferry Aratere being out of service after losing a propeller on November 5 has meant fewer tourists in Nelson and less spending.

Tourists' camper vans had been stuck in Wellington because they could not get on a ferry and many would have been dropped off in Christchurch and not travelled north, she said. Tourism operators would be concerned because they could not recoup that lost income. With the ferry now returning to service, it was expected the season would perform overall, she said.

Pre-Christmas retail spending is slowing gearing up.

At Morrison Square in Nelson, Christmas decorations were going up yesterday, with its big phoenix palm decked with silver balls. Centre manager Nona Jackson described Christmas shopping as "imminent".

"This weekend was our first festive weekend, it was also our sixth birthday and it was humming, the stores were buzzing and we had lots of gift wrapping."

November had been quieter than some retailers expected after a good October, she said. "They feel like things are picking up now, which is good.

"On Thursday, when some decorations went up, those retailers said it was like the doors opened."

Uniquely Nelson manager Cathy Madigan said it was from now that people started getting more organised for Christmas.

The November spending figures were softer than in the previous spring months when they were above the national average, but at 6.5 per cent the growth was still double what it had been in November last year compared with November 2011.

"Now a lot of the Christmas parties are over, people are getting organised for Christmas, let's get the tills ringing."

At Richmond Mall, manager Belinda de Clerq said November had been good for food retailers but a mixed bag for fashion retailers, with some doing well and some struggling. The mall had an 11 per cent increase in foot traffic.

In the first week of December there were a lot more customers from the morning start and foot traffic had been up on Sunday, when there was the Santa parade.

"Christmas is here and we can see it in the foot traffic," she said.

With midnight opening at KMart daily and on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Farmers, shopping patterns could change, she said.

Paymark head of customer relations Mark Spicer said nationally the increase in spending showed momentum was building toward the final Christmas countdown.

"Anecdotal commentary from retailers suggests the figures are supported and Kiwis are beginning to get out and about to collect their Christmas supplies. However, there is still a way to go before the big Christmas rush sets in.

"The extra spend in the first seven days of December on food and liquor has been noticeable this year, suggesting people are keen to stock their cupboards for Christmas meals and socialise with family and friends.

"More generally, it is promising to see the higher growth rate of late continue into the first week of the busy period."

Last year, December spending exceeded November by 16 per cent. The increased activity and a sustained higher growth rate was encouraging.

Last year's spending trends suggested shoppers' spending would now shift more to the department stores and furniture/appliance stores, he said.