OPINION: They say good things take time. That's certainly been the case for the Around the Mountains Cycle Trail but it's only a short time now till the first stage of the trail opens and it's important our communities are ready to take advantage of the benefits it brings.
When stage one, from Kingston to Mossburn, opens it will mean not just an opportunity for locals to get out and use it, it's also a drawcard for tourists from around the world.
Council staff and contractors have been putting in track, fencing, signs and bridges and stage one is now all but completed, with the section to be opened on October 31.
This will mean a tourism boost for many businesses on or near the trail but people in our towns need to be proactive and put in the hard yards now to get the best results for their areas.
Our towns and businesses need to be ready for tourists' arrival but they also need to think ahead about opportunities, marketing, promotion and the future.
The cycle trail was positively received at a recent international tourism conference, with comments made that it will be great for the region.
Around 260 international buyers from major and emerging markets attended Trenz, and overall feedback about Southland was positive.
A good sign - the foundation is already there - we just need to do some more work.
Southland has it all; we are geographically diverse and beautiful, we're known for our warm southern hospitality, we have a relaxed way of life and a unique cultural heritage.
These are all things we can be proud of and which make us different from a tourism point of view.
Tourism businesses in the region range from smaller owner- operators to large companies and cover everything from accommodation to travel. There are already thriving tourist destinations in our district - Te Anau, Milford Sound and the Catlins. I think our whole region could see growth in tourism if people seize the opportunities available.
There are several ways to do this; you may simply want to review your own business and look at how you could cater for or market to families or tourists using the cycle trail. It could be as simple as putting a bike rack outside your premises to make it cyclist friendly.
It could be an opportunity to reinvent your business or to start a new one.
An excellent example of businesses building on the success of a cycle trail is the Central Otago Rail Trail which has been a huge success and could be an example of potential opportunities and what could be done in the south. It could be a good starting point for people to look at and learn from.
Help and guidance is also available through council - talk to your councillors, community board and community development area subcommittee members and council staff. We can help with ideas and guiding you.
Venture Southland is there to assist, with economic development, destination promotion and community development as its key roles; which make Venture Southland a great resource to use. You can get in touch individually or take up the opportunities they offer. An example of this is the upcoming free workshops being offered to Southland businesses to help grow their international visitor numbers.
While it is a fantastic new asset, the cycle trail is not the only drawcard to the deep south.
I recently attended ILT Kidzone, and can I say it made me wish I was a kid again. It is an amazing event, one that's unique and loved by kids and kids at heart.
The event is held in Invercargill but it targets all Southland children, the tickets are affordable and Southland District Council offers a free bus service from the district to make sure it's accessible. It's a great Southland event, but it has appeal outside the region too - I know of people coming from Queenstown and Dunedin to attend this year.
Another successful long- standing Southland event is coming up in a few months - the Burt Munro Challenge brings huge numbers of visitors to our beautiful region.
It's events like this which show how special we are and I think they are also drawcards to the region as well.
Another possible growth area for Southland is the increasingly popular eco-tourism market - there's plenty of scope for Southland to take advantage of this - we have two national parks, an abundance of native wildlife and plenty of stunning scenery to offer.
I want to see a more active tourism market in Southland. Economically it makes sense - the industry spend is $65 million a day nationally.
For our district to take advantage of this we need to work together, look at future opportunities and ensure that what we pursue is sustainable.
I hope to see Southlanders get out and take advantage of our new cycle trail - both by going for a ride themselves and also by looking at what opportunities it could help bring for our towns.
Gary Tong is Southland District mayor.
- The Southland Times
What is your impression of Invercargill's teens?Related story: Letter: In praise of young people