Marlborough cut of from growth
The closure of State Highway 1 continues to hit Marlborough’s visitor economy, with latest tourism spend figures showing zero growth.
Marlborough ranked last of all regions in New Zealand in Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment estimates for June.
Tourism insiders said the disruption to travel networks following last year’s November 14 quake continued to hurt.
However, they were hopeful an upgraded State Highway 1 would reap benefits for the region in years to come.
Marlborough earned $370 million from tourism in the yearending June. This equated to zero per cent growth compared with year-on-year figures.
The tourist spend for the month of June equalled $16m, a drop of 6 per cent over the previous month. The national average showed an 11 per cent increase.
The results come as nearby regions West Coast and Tasman increased their tourism economy, by 15 per cent and 12 per cent respectively, over the year to June 2017.
‘‘I’m disappointed we’re the lowest, absolutely, but I can understand why we’re the lowest,’’ she said. ‘‘This is not an ongoing trend, it’s just that our key access route has been totally turned off. When the road reopens, we will see a swing back.’’
The Riverlands Roadhouse bordered State Highway 1.6 kilometres south of Blenheim.
Owner Chris Wagner said traffic on the road had calmed down significantly since the 7.8-magnitude earthquake.
The highway was expected to reopen in December, with a walking and cycling trail set to be incorporated into the rebuild.
The new and improved road offered a big opportunity for Marlborough going forward, Wagner said. ‘‘It will be faster, safer, give better access to the region and take cyclists off the road.
‘‘It is an awesome opportunity,’’ he said. ‘‘We’ve been handed an amazing opportunity, we have to take full advantage of it. Marlborough has so much to offer. It simply shouldn’t be a pass-through area.’’
A plan to create a trail between Ship Cove in the Marlborough Sounds and Cathedral Square in Christchurch, named the Coastal Pacific Trail, had been touted since January.
Wagner had already formed a 150-metre section of the prospective Picton-to-Christchurch trail on his property in anticipation of the project going ahead.
The entrepreneur also launched his own freedom camping concept KiwiCamp in March which let freedom campers park the night for free but charged a small fee to access hot showers and washing machines.
Marlborough needed to elevate its profile to tourists and the next few years were crucial, Wagner said.
‘‘For us to have such low numbers is very alarming. A lot of it is to do with the road, but it shouldn’t be that low,’’ he said.
‘‘We have the best wines, the Marlborough Sounds. To not be a tourism mecca is absolutely criminal.’’
Destination Marlborough had launched a domestic campaign titled Never Been Better to attract visitors in Nelson, Wellington and Auckland.
Winter was typically quiet for tourism in the region, but changes to road access meant it was a good opportunity to lure domestic visitors from parts other than Canterbury, Lloyd said.
‘‘Marlborough is beautiful in winter, so we’re trying to create that urgency,’’ she said.
A campaign in Canterbury was planned to bring those visitors back once the road reopened, Lloyd said.
Riverlands Roadhouse employee George Ilko beside a part of State Highway 1 that has been closed since the November earthquake.