Whanganui domestic tourism growth nudges 10pc

Whanganui has topped the national table for domestic tourism growth for the second month running, recording +9.8 per cent for visitor spend in May – more than double that of the next closest region.

Out of 31 Regional Tourism Organisations (RTOs) in New Zealand, only six recorded growth this May compared to May 2022. At second place, Dunedin grew +3.9 per cent followed by Waitaki (+1.7pc), Kaikōura (+1.6pc), and Southland (+0.2pc).

Auckland was the only other North Island region to join Whanganui on the growth table, but only just at +0.05 per cent. New Zealand’s average domestic visitor spend growth was -5.2 per cent.

Whanganui’s extraordinary +9.8 per cent growth in May outperforms April’s table-topping +5.2% and continues a strong trend.

Whanganui & Partners’ Acting Chief Executive Jonathan Sykes said although the agency had been expecting the upward trend to continue, recording such significant growth was hugely encouraging. Whanganui & Partners is the RTO for the region and manages promotional activity for the ‘Discover Whanganui’ brand.

“We look at consumer spend data very carefully and keep a close eye on our regional peers, so we could see Whanganui was bucking national trends and not succumbing to the slowdown regions typically get midyear,” Sykes said.

“Consumer spend is a solid indicator and gives us a plain view of how our economy is performing without the need to speculate.”

In addition to tracking visitor spend, the agency also monitors accommodation occupancy rates. In May, Whanganui’s occupancy rate for accommodation providers with 6-20 rooms available was 71.8 per cent while the national average was 60.7 per cent. In May 2022, Whanganui’s rate was 60.6 per cent (NZ’s was 58.9pc).

It is crucial that Whanganui’s accommodation offering grows to support increases in visitor numbers, Sykes said, and to better support the already hugely popular events that bring visitors here in their thousands.

Whanganui & Partners has used a Tourism Sentiment Index tool over the past year to gain insight into perceptions about Whanganui. The tool uses sophisticated software to track online conversations about Whanganui.

Sykes said the Index tracked 19,500 destinations globally, measuring destinations’ ability to generate positive word of mouth among visitors.

“What we can see with this tool is that our accommodation providers meet the expectations of visitors in terms of quality and service. Having a four-star hotel or more accommodation available is really the missing element as our visitor numbers grow.”

Whanganui’s growing profile is evident across most of the data Whanganui & Partners tracks. There is a positive correlation between visitor spend growth, data showing the impact of promotional activity, and insights from tracking online perceptions of Whanganui.

Sykes said there were always multiple factors responsible for growth, but Whanganui & Partners focused its activity on what it could influence and measure.

“We know that weather events on the East Coast likely impacted our visitor numbers, particularly earlier in the year. But Whanganui is seeing continued domestic visitor growth and at a rate which our neighbours are missing out on, and that’s significant.”

Manawatū had -0.7 per cent growth in May, Taranaki had -3.3 per cent, Wellington -1.9 per cent and Wairarapa -4.8.

Whanganui & Partners had undertaken ambitious promotional work over the past two years, made possible through a central government funding boost.

“We’ve challenged what people expect from Whanganui,” Sykes said. “Drivers stuck in big-city traffic are used to seeing billboards advertising Queenstown, Fiji, or Australia. We decided to put Whanganui up there and take up space with the big players.

“We have used funding opportunities to be bold in our promotions. Along with New Zealand’s most prominent billboards, we have put Whanganui on TV screens, in digital media and in the country’s most well-read publications.”

As it stepped up promotional work, Whanganui & Partners tracked the reaction online and used that data to tweak what it was doing and maintain momentum.

“We aim to send people to the Discover Whanganui website, to our social media channels, or directly to visitor industry operators,” Sykes said. “When we see big spikes in website activity as we hit key points in our promotional work, it’s a good sign our audience is paying attention.”

Whanganui & Partners has put effort into challenging national perceptions about what Whanganui offers.

“We have been very deliberate in showing the great variety of experiences we have here. We have focused on people, the exceptional character of Whanganui and its ability to surprise visitors.”

Sykes said the impact of the government funding boost shouldn’t be understated. The government allocated tourism support funding in two successive budgets, in an effort to offset the effects of the Covid pandemic.

Sykes said the increased interest in Whanganui clearly demonstrated how impactful central government funding was.

“Life in Whanganui is exceptional, we have creativity coursing through our veins and beauty all around us, it’s not hard to see why this is a great place to visit – and it doesn’t hurt that we claim the country’s best temperature almost every night on the 6 o’clock news.”


Tourism funding allocation:
Central government allocated funding in its ‘Strategic Tourism Asset Protection Plan’ from Budget 2021 and ‘Tourism Communities: Support, Recovery and Re-set Plan’ from the 2022 budget.

Data source:
Tourism spend – Tourism Electronic Card Transactions (TECT) – data is provided by MBIE. The TECTs present the measured electronic card transactions (ECT) attributable to tourism but without any attempt to represent the total spend (ie. they don not record cash transactions). This method is considered by MBIE to be the best way to provide visitor spend data. MBIE’s data can be found here.

The top seven regions listed by Regional Tourism Organisation:
Whanganui & Partners (Whanganui)
Enterprise Dunedin (Dunedin)
Tourism Waitaki (Waitaki)
Destination Kaikōura (Kaikōura)
Tātaki Auckland Unlimited (Auckland)

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