Fiordland tourism and Airbnb trending upwards in Southland
Airbnb is starting to make its mark on tourism in Southland, with almost 500 properties now open for accommodation, but tourism experts are unsure whether it's a good thing for the region.
Venture Southland released its tourism figures for June-July on Tuesday, recording an overall increase in guest nights of 4.3 per cent during the past year (to reach a total of 1,088,778).
The report highlighted two major trends within the sector: a strong increase in international visitors, and a decrease in domestic tourists.
International guest nights lifted by 14.5 per cent to 642,816 (June 2016-June 2017), while international visitor spending increased by 21.8 per cent to $265 million (July 2016-July 2017).
The highest proportion of those visitors came from Australia, followed by the United States, China, and Germany.
During the same time period, domestic guest nights dipped 7.6 per cent, to a total of 445,967.
However, despite this, domestic spending lifted by 2.4 per cent to $357m.
The other major trend highlighted was the rise in Airbnb accommodation on offer.
Venture Southland tourism team leader Warrick Low said Airbnb was having a significant effect on tourism in Southland.
"We can't deny it's having an impact. At any given time there's a couple of hundred beds available; that's equivalent to two major hotels.
"Whether it's a good or bad thing we don't know yet."
Low said while it was certainly bringing money into the region, there was no accurate way of measuring what effect it was having.
Infometrics senior economist Benje Patterson said while Airbnb had not had the same impact as elsewhere in New Zealand yet, it was beginning to make its mark.
Patterson said during July there had been 477 Airbnb listings in Southland, compared to 4249 commercial units available in the region.
Back in October 2016, there were only 289 Airbnb listings.
"If I was to look across New Zealand as a whole at present, there's 42,000 listings nationwide in July for Airbnb, where there's 135,000 in commercial accommodation [June figures].
"Some of that [difference] is because Southland didn't have the same kind of capacity pressures that you've had in places like Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown. It's been a little slower from that perspective, because Airbnb has really plugged in gaps when there's been big events on, or during peak season and people can't find rooms anywhere. Those are the places we've seen it go absolutely crazy."
Patterson said those numbers were set to grow in the current tourism climate.
"I think Southland is starting to pick up now because we're seeing a lot of demand spilling over into Te Anau for independent travellers or even some tours.
"People are beginning to use that as their launching pad to get into Milford, because they're getting priced out at Queenstown at peak times – hotels have got 'no vacancy' signs up, and room rates are eye-wateringly high.
"The markets going to continue to grow so long as there's strong underlying demand for accommodation.
"Having seen what sort of penetration Airbnb as been getting into other regions, there's no reason why that won't continue to rise."
An Airbnb operator in Invercargill said most visitors were from overseas and were looking for a different experience.
"They're either coming from Dunedin and want to get to Central [Otago], or they're coming from Queenstown and want to get over to the Catlins, so they just want accommodation for the night really.
"What they like, too, is that when you stay in a home, you get more of a feeling of a country and meeting the people."
Overall, tourism growth throughout Southland continues to be uneven, with Fiordland the main driver for the increases.
While Fiordland's guest nights were up by more than 10 per cent, the rest of Southland actually recorded a drop of 2.7 per cent.
Invercargill was the main reason for the decline, dropping by more than 6 per cent.
Destination Fiordland tourism manager Phillippa Murrell said the increases in visitor numbers and spending had been "very encouraging", with indications projecting growth to continue through to autumn 2018.
Southern Lakes Helicopters operations manager Lloyd Matheson said Te Anau had been noticeably busier, even during the winter months.
"For us it's been a good season for the last couple of months ... there's independent tourists versus coach tours, it's been quite a steady stream really.
"It's been a trend over the past several years.
"Certainly the town at night time looks busy round the restaurants for this time of year. Normally it's pretty quiet until Labour Weekend, but at the moment it's still quite buoyant."
Matheson said legislation around flights in and out of Milford Sound had not kept up with the increased demand.
Every year, helicopter operators were allocated a certain number of landings into the area.
"The biggest issue for air operators is the Department of Conservation's limitation on landings at Milford.
"Most operators round the southern region have had notice that there's no more supplementary landings available to pull down on until December this year, so quite a number have already got to their limit of landings.
"The allocation hasn't grown with the [tourism] growth."