Business Leaders

Bubble bursts for tourism in the Bay – but it will rise again

Tourism was the first casualty of COVID-19 with no international tourists flying in, nor any NZers able to travel outside of the region during full lockdown. This was a major hit for many of Hawke’s Bay’s tourism operators as well as the hospitality sector.

Tourism is a major economic earner for the region, to the sum of $690 million and for sometime Hawke’s Bay like many other regions will now be relying on domestic tourism. We will also be hotly competing to lure the likes of Aucklanders and Wellingtonians to the Bay and up against the likes of Rotorua, Queenstown and Nelson. So what do we have planned? The Profit has put some questions to Hamish Saxton, the general manager of HB Tourism.

Tourism has been one of the first sectors to feel the impact of COVID-19. What was the initial response from local tourism operators?
We’re a resilient and positive bunch – but it’s hard when you remove our customers completely. But it’s not just our tourism operators – when you remove the visitor economy from the entire local economy, we all feel it. We lose the vibe and the energy of visitors enjoying the place that we love to show off. When you have no-one to show off to, it’s an extremely lonely existence!

What types of support has HBT provided tourism operators since the crisis began?
As a membership organisation, and as the representative organisation of an important sector of our economy, we worked to provide support, leadership, knowledge, guidance – and what we couldn’t do, we worked to find the right agency that could.

We wanted to be informed (so we could share what we knew), we wanted to be transparent, we wanted to be available, we wanted to be empathetic, we wanted to be the go-to.

In addition, we provided a 12 month membership holiday for members, we increased frequency of communications/updates through newsletter, revitalised our Facebook site for industry/ members, and made access really easy.

We also created an informal Friday “chinwag” sessions with members on Zoom, surveyed members/stakeholders at each level so we can represent (and understand/respond to) the needs of our industry.

We worked with visitor economy/members (eg promoted Chamber of Commerce initiative to members), developed workshops to strengthen businesses as well as worked with the hospitality sector on a deliveries initiative for Level 3.

We developed a Hawkes Bay Tourism Recovery Marketing Strategy – working to generate business from Locals, Inter- regional, the drive market (within 4 hours) and the Fly market domestically.

You were a casualty yourself – being forced into isolation early, due to being overseas. How did you manage to keep up your connection with stakeholders at that time?

It’s true, I had 9 days of quarantine before Level 4 lockdown commenced. But I had my phone, laptop, zoom, skype, messenger, and Facebook – there was not a minute when I was not contactable. Most of my ‘holiday’ was spent in a hotel room using my phone like a laptop, on emails and reading reports, dealing with the looming challenges of COVID-19 on our sector. It’s amazing how you just adapt to the situation. And then I came home and entered quarantine.

You have managed to turn quickly into looking for solutions, and have sought outside advice and support which helped come up with the Baycation idea, was it hard coming to a conclusion on what idea (s) to run with, or was this a stand out from the start?

Pre-Covid our strategic intent was developing a focus on Wellington, so the pandemic brought this forward and forced us to crystallise our thinking. The relative clarity/guidance from government regarding the alert levels meant that staycations would be the earliest stage of travel (either local or inter- regional). Staycation easily morphed into Baycation, and the concept was quickly embraced by industry, locals and media alike. Our thinking was aligned. We worked with enthusiastic supporters who were so keen to see Hawke’s Bay succeed. We knew we had to work with urgency and work in conjunction with our industry.

Is there any particular type of tourism business/offering that will ride this out better than others?
The answer will be “the types of offerings domestic visitors have demand for”. As New Zealand’s food and wine country, we know that people love coming here for our food and wine offerings, our outdoor leisure offerings – cycleways, walkways, beaches, gardens, our architectural heritage – and our climate. My understanding is that numerous businesses enjoyed our Queen’s Birthday visitors – accommodation, hospitality, attractions, activities and retail! Our challenge will be to out- compete the other 30 tourism regions in New Zealand who will be vying for the attention of our market. We need to get “more than our fair share”.

When do you think we are likely to see the big HB events come back on stream?
I really hope that Level 1 will allow big events to occur. I really hope that the safe management of our health, and our own individual respect and responsibility for the recommended social behaviour will see confidence return without compromise – and therefore the demand for events. Outdoor events may be more palatable in the first instance. We have so many great reasons to attract people to our region and planning is well underway – including the Sotheby’s Hawke’s Bay Marathon, Central Hawke’s Bay Springfling, Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival, Hawke’s Bay Wine Auction, F.A.W.C!, Holly Hospice – and so much more.

Do you think there will be an emergence of a new tourism offering – and what could this/these be?
In normal circumstances, 75 percent of our market is domestic. For the next few months, it’ll be 100 percent domestic and then (hopefully) we’ll have a trans-Tasman bubble. So, our target market already loves what we have, and they’ll be drawn to events. The domestic market will come to visit friends and family. They’ll want to see something familiar and maybe they’ll do something new, which may be something we already have that they’ve not enjoyed before. We have a lot to explore, from the fantastic heritage offerings of Ongaonga to the glorious natural hot springs of Morere (and everything in between) – there’s a multitude of different Baycations to enjoy! They’ll come for our reputation as a food and wine destination, for family leisure and for the holiday vibe. They’ll come for our authentic offerings. Demand will dictate. And lastly, perhaps there will be the emergence of new offerings that I simply can’t predict . What do they say – necessity is the mother of invention – so the entrepreneurial spirit may deliver something the crystal ball doesn’t show.

You are asking Wellingtonians to support HB and come and visit. If you’re thinking of your next holiday destination – where will it be and why?
Like many New Zealanders I have a great desire to catch up with friends and family – and to do a few things I’ve not done before. So, I’ve committed to a you-beaut 7-day motorhome holiday exploring Northland, which will tick the box for doing a few things I’ve not done before, as I’ve not been north of Matauri Bay (and it was a brief, brief visit) . . . friends and family will have to wait.