Tourism comprised 4% of the regional GDP with visitor spend of $126M in the year to July 2020.
This destination management plan provides a road map for sustainable growth in the future and to realise the potential for tourism to become a larger economic, environmental, cultural and social contributor to the region.
There is a strong consensus that the focus of tourism for the Whanganui region should be to place the river at the heart of visitor experiences. This emphasis is of highest priority for the region. Recent settlement of the treaty claim and passage of the Te Awa Tupua Act provides an opportunity for cocreation and management of new tourism enterprises and assets.
There needs to be new iconic experiences that can be developed to achieve international recognition that will be synonymous with Whanganui. An example could be the proposed eco – tourism hub that is being considered. In addition, investment in a range of authentic Māori cultural experiences will enhance the identity of the region. This will require a stocktake of existing experiences and development of new product that will meet identified gaps.
The destination can also continue to build on its other unique tourism assets. Heritage and Arts are the two that have high levels of recognition with existing visitors and are opportunities that present many current experiences, activities and events to work with.
Whanganui is predominantly a domestic visitor destination with the majority of visitors coming from nearby regions. Events do drive wider visitation, but overall, the regional tourism offer is not well known. As a destination, it needs to raise its awareness through increasing its marketing in all channels.
Widening its reach to other regions beyond the neighbouring ones will increase the size and diversity of the potential visitor market. There has been an increase in media engagement and public relations around activities and events within the region. This should continue to be strengthened to further raise awareness and to improve the consideration of Whanganui as a destination.
To raise the profile of tourism for visitors and within the region, leadership and management needs to be enhanced with adequate resources and increased information and knowledge being used by industry. Growing the tourism experience requires additional investment within the Regional Tourism Organisation beyond the status quo, especially to support product development.
Tourism operators should make the most of opportunities to develop their capability and improve the quality of the tourism experience. Existing cooperative arrangements with neighbouring regions can be further developed to deliver these opportunities.
This includes a higher level of commitment and involvement in national initiatives such as Qualmark and the Tourism Sustainability Commitment. Quality environmental performance is an attribute of tourism that is increasingly demanded by visitors and communities alike.
Whanganui is rich in built and physical assets for visitors. The most pressing need is an improvement in the quality and quantity of visitor accommodation. Complementing the physical assets with an improved array of experiences for current domestic visitors will encourage them to do more and stay longer.
Whanganui has the potential to have a strong and growing tourism economy with a unified vision and high quality experiences that establish a powerful reputation for all visitors. Successful implementation of this destination management plan will increase visitor satisfaction and spend, improve word of mouth comments and opinions, and grow pride in what Whanganui has to offer both the resident and visitor.