Caroline Bay is one of the most popular spots for locals and visitors to the city. Timaru needs to find and sell its own story, if it wants to attract more tourists.
That's the advice of Christchurch Airport chief executive Malcolm Johns, who was also deputy chairman of Tourism New Zealand for six years. "Everyone says you should invest more money, but all you need to do is understand 'what is the story of Timaru?'," Johns said.Christchurch Airport CEO Malcolm Johns with South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce chief executive Wendy Smith.
Addressing an audience of about 40 at a lunch hosted by the South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, Johns spoke of the importance of harnessing all that was unique to an area. Citing Christchurch as an example, he said the earthquakes had been unique to the city, as was its service to Scott Base in Antarctica, and those 'stories' had been used to help market the city effectively.
Caroline Bay's aviary is another popular attraction. In terms of Timaru, he said as soon as he arrived he had immediately noticed the town still had its heritage buildings. This was an obvious, under-utilised asset, he said."Timaru's still got heritage value. It only needs imagination. "Immediately you can see how [Timaru] could add into the Mackenzie-Christchurch equation," he said.
Timaru District Mayor Damon Odey did not agree the town's heritage buildings were under-utilised and said many owners had made efforts to restore building facades. Odey said some visitors came just to see the buildings, as building tours run by David McBride of the Civic Trust demonstrated.However, Odey agreed "100 per cent" with Johns' suggestion of the need for a regional approach to tourism. "We are part of the newly published Canterbury Visitor Strategy which sees us working with Christchurch Airport," Odey said. "We are doing a targeted tourism marketing campaign with Air NZ in relation to the new plane service, capitalising on the Alps to Ocean and people spending time in South Canterbury, via transiting in and out of Timaru's airport, which we're upgrading to meet the new demand," he said.
Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA) chief executive Chris Roberts said communities across the country could reap greater gains from tourism if local councils grasped opportunities.
Only a fraction of tourist spending occurred in tourism-specific places, such as hotels and attractions. The rest took place in cafes, bars, supermarkets, petrol stations, vineyards and other local businesses, Roberts said. Johns saw rival tourist attractors, such as Otago's penguin colonies and the Mackenzie District's astro-tourism, as "powerful allies" for Timaru. But visitors en route to attractions further south, and a predicted increase of tourism overspill from the Mackenzie could be better captured if Timaru promoted a stronger identity, he said. "All you want to do is get people to stop here." Catering directly to potential visitors was another way of getting them to stay locally, he said.
In the case of the booming Chinese market, providing menus in Mandarin and Chinese food were good ideas as Chinese tourists did not tend to like "bacon and eggs" and were unlikely to stay if they could not find food they could relate to. Numbers of Chinese tourists were expected to increase further, with the percentage having risen from 6 to 30 per cent in the past five years. Chinese tourists were typically educated and wealthy, spending 24 per cent more than the national average whilst travelling, Johns said. Many were "not going anywhere near tourist spots", he said.
A Christchurch airport invitation to a group of executives from China Southern Airlines to view the South Island's greatest attractions in helicopters had led to them signing a deal to bring more international tourists through the airport. "Being parochial, being provincial, rules you out of discussions like that," Johns said.
Odey travelled to China's largest mayoral tourism conference this year, and was part of the first Local Government New Zealand mayoral tourism delegation to travel to China last year, through which he was able to market Timaru and South Canterbury directly to the massive Chinese market, he said.
Last updated 16:15, July 29 2016