Getting tourism back on track

BOB ROBERTSON
Last updated 15:06 17/12/2013
Bob Robertson
Bob Robertson is the director of Riverstone Holdings, the company behind the Fiordland Link Experience.

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OPINION: The Fiordland Link Experience has the potential to make Te Anau one of the most vibrant tourism destinations in New Zealand. Like any major project, it has its fair share of detractors.

However, during the past two months, I have been getting increasingly positive feedback from locals as more people come to understand exactly what we aim to achieve and the very real opportunities available for the regional economy.

We have demonstrated to the Department of Conservation that the environmental and recreational impacts can be mitigated. What I really want to emphasise now is that the benefits to Te Anau and the wider Otago- Southland regional economy are real.

International tourism is a cut- throat industry. If we sit back and expect visitors will keep coming, we're going to lose out. International Visitor Survey statistics show that, since 2008, international tourists travelling to and staying overnight in Fiordland are down 30 per cent. In the six months from April this year, 6500 fewer visitors have passed through Te Anau to Milford. Tourist numbers nationally, meanwhile, continue to climb.

Contrary to some opinions, the monorail isn't about cannibalising the existing package tour market. Absolutely, we expect a large number of people will prefer the experience we're offering when compared with a 10-hour bus ride.

But where we see the real opportunity to grow our business and the Fiordland tourism industry is by targeting and delivering the type of tourist our economy needs - free and independent travellers looking for the experience of a lifetime. They have no interest in losing their precious time sitting on a bus.

They want to experience back- country New Zealand. The stunning sights, the open air and the people. That is what we will promise through a multimillion- dollar international marketing campaign. We will be the first major company to focus our promotional activity on selling Te Anau as a destination.

Its hotels, restaurants, shops, stunning scenery, magnificent walks, existing attractions and lake are pivotal to our plans. From the monorail terminus at Te Anau Downs, we plan to establish bus and ferry connections into the town. New businesses will be established with more jobs created and activities offered.

Right now, Te Anau, with its surrounds, is one of the greatest undiscovered tourism destinations in the world. Undiscovered, because the entire focus of the existing marketing and promotional activity is on Milford Sound.

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We expect to generate an extra 30,000 tourists a year through our advertising campaign. That's 30,000 people who will have been sold an experience with Te Anau marketed as the destination. The Milford market already exists and will continue to exist. Where we can generate real growth is by marketing Te Anau and the wider region.

Our budget and sensitivity studies show we need only 75,000 passengers a year. We believe we will attract over 300,000. A lot of our initial patronage will be New Zealanders, particularly from the North Island, and Australians who have never been to Fiordland before and are excited about taking the family on a unique journey. Others might have been to Milford many years ago but will be enticed by the new offering to experience the wider region. We already know 60 per cent of visitors to the South Island are repeat custom.

We will also be aggressively targeting the 45 per cent of international tourists who currently only visit the North Island on holiday. That's more than 1 million people the entire South Island is missing out on - every year. We believe we can persuade at least 5 per cent of those - roughly 54,000 people - to take the opportunity to visit Fiordland. Even if they stay two days only, that's an extra $26 million they will bring to our economy. All this spending will flow into the wider Otago- Southland economy, while providing more opportunities for tourism operators across the region to also target these visitors.

As well as the economic benefits of operating the monorail, in order to construct it we will be investing heavily in the local economy from the outset. This means jobs, materials and all the flow-on in goods and services that come with looking after a workforce of 130 people over a two-year period, and then the operational business in the long term.

We are experienced developers. When we enter a community we stay committed to it. If you need evidence, you need to look only as far as Wanaka where we have invested millions of dollars in time and money into community events because we love it and want it to be a positive, vibrant place to live. We can do the same for Te Anau.

I understand that there are those who want Te Anau to remain exactly as it is and a small minority are working hard to misrepresent this project and our intentions. I accept that, for them, the monorail is not the answer. But for everyone else, it absolutely can be.

- The Southland Times

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