Time to have your say on Clutha

People have less than a month to give feedback on a hard-hitting report that exposes the faults in Clutha's tourism industry, along with an action plan to fix them.

Commissioned by the Clutha Development Trust, destination marketing manager Jo Lowrey said the draft strategy was aimed at boosting visitor numbers.

"It gives a clear direction of where we're at, where we need to be in comparison to our counterparts in other regions and what's missing."

The report concludes that while the slogan on the region's guidebook was "NZ's hidden gem", the reality was more like "best-kept secret".

"With the exception of the Catlins, the rest of the district suffers from almost no effective marketing and poor perceptions from the rest of the country . . . in short, the district is a long way behind many of its competitors."

Asked whether she would call the document blunt, Mrs Lowrey said it was "an honest assessment; no- one's really looked at it from a business point-of-view before".

Elements ripe for improvement included the district's fractured approach to promoting itself, noting that by working independently, operators were "inadvertently competing against each other for a small share of a small number of visitors".

Unsealed roads and inadequate signs were also under the spotlight with the report saying they often made driving time- consuming and stressful for visitors.

Limited mobile phone reception and internet access were another problem, as was the fact many local businesses lagged behind in understanding technology's importance to tourism.

Mrs Lowrey agreed.

"There's something like 200 tourism operators and there's a very small percentage of them online."

If businesses cannot take online bookings they were potentially turning away one in four customers, the strategy says.

But it also noted the "magnificent natural beauty and accessibility of wildlife", the district's location on the Southern Scenic Route and its large pool of willing volunteers.

Everyone would interpret the strategy differently, Mrs Lowrey said.

"The public needs to read the document and give feedback on it because if they feel strongly for or against how its been written, then they need to make that clear to us."

The fact is it has some really attractive features, and while as a community we're quick to shoot ourselves down, outsiders rave about the region, Mrs Lowrey said.

"We're unique in that fact that we are genuine, we offer a Kiwi experience, it's not false and that just shone through."

The report pointed out that visitors were encouraged to treat the district as a side attraction, rather than a destination in its own right.

But being officially recognised as a regional tourism organisation last year was a step in the right direction, Mrs Lowrey said.

Now called Destination Clutha Catlins, she gave the example of the region's brochure being stocked in every i-Site in the country and free.

The hardest part would be achieving everything within budget but the aim was to start with self-funding and low cost projects, as noted by the strategy, she said.

"There's going to be challenges and so on I'm sure but I think it's really exciting times."

The draft version of the strategy is open for public consultation until noon on February 28.

Clutha Leader