The latest figures for 2020 are in and Whanganui’s visitor industry can celebrate. Whanganui is top of the table for tourism growth, recording 4 per cent growth for 2020.
This is one percentage point up on the already impressive 3 per cent growth recorded just a few weeks ago.
Businesses economic development agency Whanganui & Partners has spoken to have noticed the rise in visitor numbers and reported positive feedback from new visitors.
Phil Pollero, Manager of the Riverboat Centre, said the Waimarie had often been at its capacity over the Christmas holiday period and that numbers are currently up 20 per cent on the same period the year before.
“Our themed cruises over Bayleys Whanganui Vintage Weekend were also well supported and charters remain popular as local and regional businesses and organisations look to reward their teams.”
Pollero said the Waimarie had been well supported by national holiday-makers, who had boosted passenger numbers. “We’re seeing visitors from near and far, nationally, that are visiting Whanganui for the first time and taking the opportunity to see and do new activities.”
Locals who had always wanted to ride on the vessel were also now taking the opportunity to do so, Pollero said.
Billie Lawson, Whanganui i-SITE Visitor Centre Supervisor, said domestic visitor numbers had noticeably increased, mostly during holidays, long weekends and major local events.
She said the peak holiday period had been just as busy as ever, “We’ve just swapped internationals for domestic visitors.” Internationals would usually make up about 20 per cent of visitor numbers over the summer period.
“The domestic visitors have done us very proud this summer holidays by choosing Whanganui as a visit destination,” she said.
A local Qualmark-accredited accommodation provider Whanganui & Partners spoke to said their business measured its occupancy as a percentage across the year and had historically achieved about 70 per cent occupancy for the last five years.
“In 2020, this level was still achieved even though there were no guests for almost six weeks during lockdown,” they said. From June 2020 to January 2021 there were record numbers of bookings, month-on-month, compared to the previous five years.
“We can definitely say that the space left by international guests has been taken up by domestic travellers.”
The motel had also noticed a stark difference in visitor demographics and booking behaviour, “People are booking more last-minute than they did before COVID,” they said.
“However, we do believe that confidence is gradually returning and we are getting some bookings with a longer lead-time.”
National visitors might be experiencing Whanganui for the first time but their reactions suggest it won’t be the last.
The Qualmark motel operator said they often had visitors ask to stay for additional nights because they were enjoying it so much.
“We have also had guests who come here for work and then returned with a partner or family to explore the area more.”
Pollero said passengers’ very positive feedback reflected highly on the great team the vessel had.
“We also hear people saying they didn’t know Whanganui had so much to offer, what a beautiful place, and they will be telling others about us.”
At the i-SITE, Lawson said visitors had been “very impressed”. “I think the Whanganui beautification projects have contributed a lot to the positive perception overall. It creates such a good first impression which is then reinforced by friendly locals.”
Jonathan Sykes, Whanganui & Partners Strategic Lead – Brands & Events, said following the economic development agency’s biggest-ever marketing campaign last year, they had measured a significant increase in web traffic to their visitor-dedicated sites.
“We have had over 100,000 unique visitors from outside Whanganui to our websites, this is up around 40,000 the previous year and indicates this substantial growth trend is likely to continue.”
Sykes said the agency had also worked towards gaining national media exposure for Whanganui, with features in North & South, New Zealand Herald, Stuff, Kia Ora magazine and Three’s The Project providing invaluable promotional platforms.
“The journalists we host rave about Whanganui and plan on returning,” he said. “It’s encouraging to get such regular and sustained interest in Whanganui and we enjoy hearing and reading the positive stories of recent arrivals too.” He noted RNZ and Canvas features had showcased what a great place Whanganui was for new arrivals.
Pollero said the Waimarie team had been working on a strategic marketing plan to further enhance the visitor experience, increase visibility and encourage growth.
“We particularly want to encourage visitors to Whanganui generally, keep them here for as long as possible to enjoy the many gems Whanganui has – our cultural, heritage and arts experiences, not to mention the Waimarie.”
Lawson shared Pollero’s optimism. “Whanganui continues to offer reasons for visitors to come off-peak as well, for sports tournaments, events and conferences.”
The Coastal Arts Trail Whanganui & Partners is establishing in collaboration with Taranaki and Manawatū tourism authorities would also be a big draw for Whanganui, she said.
“It will generate a lot of interest and get people to stop in Whanganui when travelling on to Taranaki or Wellington.”
The Coastal Arts Trail is an easy self-drive itinerary of the art galleries, museums and open studios along the central North Island’s West Coast. The Coastal Arts Trail is a nationally recognised and funded partnership between three regions on New Zealand’s North Island; Taranaki, Whanganui and Manawatū.
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