Events, adventure and mountainbiking form backbone of Manawatu tourism plan
Large-scale events and linking with a national network of mountainbike trails are key points of a plan to keep growing the tourism industry Manawatu and Whanganui.
Ministry of Innovation, Business and Employment figures show visitors brought $946 million into the Manawatu-Whanganui economy over the 12 months to May, up 7 per cent on a year earlier. Much of that spending was in Palmerston North, where tourists spent $380m in the same period.
Palmerston North mayor Grant Smith said visitor spending had been growing steadily for well over a year. He said the trend wasn't an accident, but part of an event-focused strategy.
"We've attracted a number of large events this year – from large national sporting events and the Gold Cup horse racing festival to the stockcar teams champs and the Nitro Circus."
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The Ruapehu District had the second-highest visitor spend in the region, with $184m entering the Manawatu-Whanganui economy in the 12 months to May.
That was largely down to the high international interest in the Tongariro and Whanganui national parks, particularly for adventure tourism, which was identified as a growth area by the Accelerate 25 development plan.
Accelerate 25 programme director Craig Nash said summer visitors to Mt Ruapehu were expected to outnumber the traditional winter skiers over 2017.
The growing popularity of mountainbiking and hiking was the main driver behind that shift.
"It's a great shift. It gives a continuous supply of visitors over the year," he said.
"Ohakune, and Ruapehu, are becoming the North Island's Queenstown, with a lot of nature and adventure tourism there really picking up."
Accelerate 25's plan recommended expanding adventure and nature activities, such as biking, canoeing and rafting, in the parks and across the region to make the most of this interest.
Smith said improvements at the Arapuke Mountain Bike Trail, near Linton, would link the city with Ruapehu through the national cycleway and a network of lower North Island mountainbike trails.
Manawatu Mountain Biking Club captain Phil Stevens said work on improving the trail was expected to take another two or three years.
Professional crews added 5.5 kilometres of new track to Arapuke this summer, but club volunteers were still finishing off drainage and portions of the new track.
The Manawatu Mountain Biking Club plan is for the final track to run 25km from Ashhurst to Woodville.
Stevens said the track was already attracting more visitors, mainly from Wellington and Kapiti Coast, but with a few international mountainbikers sprinkled in as well.