This weekend sees the return of cruise ships to our region, a welcome sight for many locals and particularly those in the industry that serves the many thousands of passengers that they bring. Readers will know that our region’s economy has endured the pandemic pretty well. Despite this, unfortunately a few industries have still had a tough time over the last couple of years, with the cruise industry subjected to a swift halt in business followed by two years of uncertainty.
The cruise industry is estimated to bring in around $100m of retail spend to the Western BOP, which is significant although not particularly large in the context of the whole economy (kiwifruit is over $2b for example) and is smaller than our domestic tourism spend – our traditional summer surge driven by beaches and events. Cruise plays a critical role for local retail and hospitality companies, however, is the lifeblood of tour operators, and has strong benefits across the wider BOP and Waikato region.
Tourism for the region plays a larger role than it might appear in our economy. While we may traditionally view the industry as being retail, hospitality and accommodation based, its impact on talent is arguably just as significant and we see this in a couple of ways. Firstly, the attraction of backpackers to the region allows many local businesses access to talent that is not available otherwise – hospitality and horticulture being two significant recipients. Also, tourism is often the shop window to our region, where positive experiences have the potential for people to come back as migrants to the region.
The key future challenge for tourism, as it is for many industries, is to grow value in the future. We are a little more aware of this in the Western Bay because of the comparative lack of product that we can use for high value tourism. I’m confident that we will be able to build this in the future however as the industry gets back on its feet. In particular, Tourism Bay of Plenty and the food industry are making excellent progress on building value through a focus on food, under the Flavours of Plenty banner. This provides an excellent platform for the Bay to showcase our great food producers, personalities and restaurants, leading to more business and higher value in the future. Keep an eye out for their festival in early 2023. In the meantime, the return of cruise ships is a very welcome one for many in our community.