new auckland

Turning visitor boom to Auckland’s advantage

'Welcome to Auckland', a new tourism strategy for the city might as well say: 'Please help us make this place a whole lot better'.

The new Destination AKL 2025 does not want to put tourists and domestic visitors to work, or slap them with extra fees or charges to develop the city.

Instead it aims to attract people whose value to the city in financial spend and attitude will help make it a better place for those who live here.

The plan tries to get ahead of problems that could arise from 'over-tourism' if the city keeps drawing in more visitors without caring for itself - environment, infrastructure, facilities - and its residents along the way. 

Released Friday by Mayor Phil Goff and the Minister of Tourism Kelvin Davis, Destination AKL 2025 is a shift from straight-out 'destination marketing' to 'destination management'.

Auckland is not putting up the full-house sign. It still projects strong growth in visitor numbers and in their benefits to the economy. Already 2.6 million international visitors and almost as many from within New Zealand come to the city each year, spending more than $8 billion annually. By 2025, the international number alone is expected to hit 4.1 million a year. The total visitor spend by then is forecast to be $13.9 billion, up 85 percent on existing expenditure.

The new plan says the gains from hosting visitors need to spill directly over to those who live here, pay rates and make this place hum for others. 

The plan took nine months of consultation by a panel of 19 from tourism, local government and education experts - who in a rare display of Auckland unity signed their names (and organisations) to the subtle and nuanced process the Destination AKL 2025 represents.

Led by the ATEED economic development agency, it has engaged agencies as diverse as Auckland Transport and Education NZ and individuals including environmentalist Sir Rob Fenwick and former Māori Party leader Sir Pita Sharples.

Steve Armitage, ATEED's general manager, destination, said the plan was a unique opportunity "to push the city forward in how people move around and how we position Auckland" by the time it hosts both the Apec Leaders' meeting and the America's Cup in 2021.

Auckland was not yet at the point of 'over-tourism' but "there is enough for us to feel we need to get ahead of the issue".

He said Auckland would continue "to push for visitation but would be more sophisticated about the types of visitors we are targeting".

Using spending data and other information, ATEED would work with partners to refine what was on offer for particular visitor groups and their interests.

For example, feedback revealed a need for the transport sector to consider visitor movement, not just commuter journeys in improving Auckland's services.

One real pinch point for the city was the ever-increasing demand from visitors, international and domestic, to go to Waiheke Island. The pressures on the island's facilities and for those who live there had to be acknowledged and addressed. Some kind of app which could be used by visitors to see what queues for ferries, food, transport and other services were like before travelling there.

Armitage said: "Getting the balance right is really important. We have pulled back from continually pushing the Waiheke product and the unique nature of what that brings to Auckland. We've started to introduce new destinations into the mix.

One possibility was to expand the marketing of alternative 'Auckland fringe' places like Matakana, Piha and even Great Barrier Island and to find ways to emphasise their environmental attractions and benefits. "We do not want to be just a food and beverage market."

Another option was to find ways to incentivise visitors to be in Auckland beyond the peak summer months through new events and - with the opening at the end of next year of the International Convention Centre at Sky City - major conferences.

The Destination AKL 2025 strategy also pinpoints Māori tourism as a potential upside for Auckland. Almost all foreign visitor interest in Māori culture leads them to Rotorua but iwi in Auckland believe there is room for direct attractions and services in Auckland.

"We see a city that is recognised for the importance of its Māori identity and we have to make a stronger product offering. There are a few really ambitious projects iwi have to get up and running."

The strategy says 'destination management' would promote:

* inclusive and sustainable economic growth

* social inclusiveness, employment and poverty reduction

* resource efficiency, environmental protection, response to climate change

* cultural values, diversity and heritage

* mutual understanding, peace and security

It is a grand and virtuous wish list. But part of the process to follow Friday's announcement is for ATEED to coordinate with all the governmental and private sector organisations which can help make this happen, irrespective of whether they have direct involvement in the traditional 'tourism' industry.

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