‘Worst summer in 24 years’ for top of south
A backpackers lodge owner has lamented the ‘‘worst summer in 24 years’’ as the top of the south starts the year with a drop in guest nights.
Marlborough’s average guest nights decreased by 3.4 per cent in January while Nelson and Tasman dropped 8.8 per cent in figures released by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment.
Destination Marlborough believed it may have been due to ‘‘uncertainty’’ over highway closures.
The Villa Backpackers owner Rob Burn said this summer was the worst season in his time of owning the business.
‘‘We normally run at 100 per cent occupancy [in January]. In the January  after the road closed we ran at 91 per cent and the last January that’s just gone we were down to 77 per cent.
‘‘That was heartbreaking for me,’’ Burn said.
He believed the lower occupancy was because of ‘‘disruptors’’ such as Airbnb and freedom camping.
‘‘We couldn’t see what we had done wrong, it’s not as if our prices were any different. We have dynamic prices which went up and down with demand which is normal, we follow what others are doing.
‘‘A lot of the couples that used to stay in our private rooms paying $70 or $80 a night, they are now doing Airbnb and it’s a similar price,’’ Burn said.
In the January report, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said backpacker accommodation providers suffered the most in Marlborough. Guest nights at backpackers dropped by 21.7 per cent compared to the same month last year.
Destination Marlborough general manager Jacqui Lloyd said while occupancy was down, spending was up.
‘‘I would hazard a guess that it would be due to the road closure. People would still be looking at their travel plans and how they would work their travel times.
‘‘Since the road has opened our visitor spending is up 2 per cent. We have been on the negatives throughout last year. For month- on-month spend we are up 13 per cent ahead of January 2017,’’ Lloyd said.
But for Burn the visitor spend had not been evident.
‘‘Parts of the month were OK and on some nights we’re full or almost full, and other nights we’re wondering where people are.
‘‘Freedom camping hasn’t been well managed at all, we’ve had a very good ranger in Murray Morgan, [but] as soon as he goes they all come back because they are all highly mobile, highly connected and it’s just a game where no-one wants to pay,’’ Burn said.
The Marlborough Lodge general manager Peter White said the lower figures did not translate to what he was seeing at his hotel.
‘‘Certainly for us, last summer we were a brand new business so this season we had a little time to mature and grow.
‘‘Our numbers are significantly up on what we did last year. But even talking to other hoteliers, they’ve said they have had a really good time so I’m surprised the numbers are a bit down.’’
White said the summer was boosted by international visitors, particularly from the US.
‘‘The international tourists that have been coming through and spending significant money in Marlborough, there’s been strong growth there.
‘‘January started off really busy, we had a little lower towards the second half of January and that’s normal because our international clients travel very strong in the last week of December to the first 10 days of January,’’ he said.
Destination Marlborough general manager Jacqui Lloyd said uncertainty over road closures could have added to the drop in guest nights.