Akaroa far from tacky and needs greater backing

Fun in the sun at a jetty in Akaroa.
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Fun in the sun at a jetty in Akaroa.

OPINION: "Welcome to Tack-aroa" boomed the large headline on a slow news day, in between the New Year's Honours and more road fatalities.

It would be easy to wade in to the ensuing and polarising bunfight that has followed the article. However, there is a wider and relatively untold story of the cruise ships coming to Akaroa since the Christchurch earthquakes in 2010 and 2011.

Unable to use Lyttelton, these ships were a welcome boost to Akaroa businesses following the dropoff of visitors after the global financial crisis, and then the complete dropoff in free independent travellers after the quakes.

Some Akaroa residents have complained about the clutter of market stalls in the streets. This one has since closed.
SUPPLIED

Some Akaroa residents have complained about the clutter of market stalls in the streets. This one has since closed.

Staff from Akaroa District Producers/Information Centre, volunteers and local businesses quickly responded with a "can do" attitude, developing ways to best manage our visitors and their transport logistics, while giving them a quality visitor experience. Cruise NZ gave Akaroa their Best Local Initiative Award in 2012 in recognition of this response.

READ MORE:
Akaroa stews over cruise trade
Missing quays: Christchurch's cruise ship dilemma
Editorial: Why isn't it full steam ahead with bringing cruise ships back to Lyttelton?
Lyttelton Port supports construction of cruise ship terminal

In the 2014/15 season, Akaroa welcomed 135,000 cruise ship passengers and 60000 crew, and in the previous year this was estimated to contribute $35.3m and 712 jobs directly to the wider Christchurch and Canterbury economy.

A busy day in Akaroa with tourists flooding through the region off cruise ships parked in the harbour.
JOSEPH JOHNSON/FAIRFAX NZ

A busy day in Akaroa with tourists flooding through the region off cruise ships parked in the harbour.

What doesn't get acknowledged is that this makes Akaroa Canterbury's second biggest point of arrival for international visitors and that these numbers are pretty significant given that, by comparison, the Christchurch International Airport had 732,000 international arrivals in 2015.

In September 2016, Cruise Critic's first ever Cruisers Choice Destination Award for Australasian destinations placed Akaroa 4th behind Sydney, Tauranga and Auckland respectively. A lot to be proud of given Akaroa's size, geographical isolation and relative lack of infrastructure for hosting these activities, and any disruption caused on the 60 odd days of the year that the cruise ships call.

There is also a significant flow-on effect for the Akaroa community on the other 300 days of the year from this visitor spend in terms of extra jobs, and the range of products, services and opening hours from our restaurants, service station, supermarket, the range of logistics and couriers from Christchurch and that we still have a bank in the town.

Cruise ship Emerald Princess parked in Akaroa Harbour with about 3000 passengers.
JOSEPH JOHNSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Cruise ship Emerald Princess parked in Akaroa Harbour with about 3000 passengers.

Canterbury tourism operators, whose job and margins get much better if they can pick up their passengers in Lyttelton, have found ready running mates with those in Akaroa who don't like having the cruise ships visit and together present a very vocal mantra of "the cruise ships must return to Lyttelton because they must return to Lyttelton because they must return to Lyttelton", all the while driving very negative press about the overall perception of cruise ships in Akaroa.

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It would be nice to feel that those who do work hard to provide that quality visitor experience are building something worthwhile for Akaroa, rather than just keeping the bed warm for the Canterbury leg of the cruise calendar until city councillor Andrew Turner can get a cruise berth in Lyttelton.

Given the statistics and contribution to the wider economy, Akaroa deserves better in terms of council spending on infrastructure for the benefit of all residents. Casual requests to council for a bigger share of cruise ship revenue include responses of "the council doesn't do jam jar accounting" and "you already receive a greater per capita share than other ratepayers".

Sadly, we will always lose out on the per capita argument, as evidenced by our recent downsizing in community board representation, and those remaining board members increased workload and decreased remuneration. If we keep squabbling among ourselves, we can hardly expect the council to take any notice of us.

As part of researching for this article, I spoke to a number of those who aren't fans of cruise ships or the "tacky" souvenir outlets. All were generous with their time, and they were all willing to share their ideas on what they thought Akaroa could do better, and make it a more enjoyable place to live.

What was interesting was that there was no singular description of what was tacky, and it was all completely subjective. Again, the response to what they would like to see was similarly varied, and again very subjective.

Besides the very visible presence of the cruise ships and camper vans, Akaroa is many things to many visitors and residents alike. Some come here to tear around on a jet ski, others to fish and dive for kai moana, to walk our tracks or just to chill out in a beautiful place.

If we want to make some parts of Akaroa better then we need to concede that Akaroa is many things to many people, and that we need to start talking to each other about these again, rather than just accentuating our dislikes in the public arena.

* Andrew Dalglish is Akaroa District Promotions chairman

 - Stuff

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