Editorial: Summer of two halves begs question

The ingredients seemed to be there for a healthy summer tourist season in the Nelson-Tasman region.

For a start the flooding that put a big dampener on the previous summer was thankfully a water-coloured memory.

Instead, long, sunny days provided an enticing backdrop for the region's natural attractions.

For a while the visitors came. Anecdotal reports in early January indicated it was shaping to be a return to the good old days, before the global financial crisis and Canterbury earthquakes reduced the numbers of national and international visitors.

But the early summer surge appears to have tapered off. A decline in information centre traffic, and a drop in guest night figures, particularly among international visitors, are pointing to a slowdown that has operators puzzled.

One of the casualties has been the temporary ice-skating rink at Tahunanui.

Its operators will not be coming back after attracting only a third of the business they expected.

The venture did not lack for novelty, but perhaps an ice rink only metres from the beach during such fair weather was a bit of a stretch. However, a similar venue in Tauranga proved popular.

One failure does not ruin a summer, but there is concern in the industry.

Moteliers are questioning whether the key Canterbury market is remaining soft. One theory is that Cantabrians are staying put to get their homes in order as EQC and insurance payouts come on stream.

Despite the mixed statistics, Nelson Tasman Tourism says its feedback from 20 major tourism operators suggests a busier season than last year.

It acknowledges the global financial crisis, and in particular its impact in Europe, is still curbing overseas visitors and the amount they spend on their travels.

Among those it hasn't deterred were those on board the luxury German cruise ship MV Europa that disgorged well-heeled passengers into Nelson and the Abel Tasman national park yesterday.

It was the first cruise ship visit to the region in about four years, far too long for an area with such natural pulling power.

Until the final statistics are out next month, it's hard to make definitive judgments on the tourist summer.

But if the downward trend continues, it's timely that a review of the regional tourist body is planned.

The Tasman District Council, a joint funder of Nelson Tasman Tourism (NTT) with the Nelson City Council, is seeking an independent review of the organisation, including options for tourism funding.

Some Tasman councillors last year signalled a desire to exit NTT, saying tourism promotion was not a council role. The council instead approved a review that it plans to carry out in the next few months.

It will make interesting reading. The case for retaining a regional tourism body, amplifying the efforts of individual operators, is strong and it is a model used around the country and overseas.

But it's right to look at whether its voice is as loud and effective as it can be.

The Nelson Mail