Mitigating the ongoing economic impact for retailers and supporting Whakatāne’s local tourism sector is at the forefront of Whakatāne District tourism activities.

Whakatāne District Council, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and Tourism Bay of Plenty are working together behind the scenes, as part of the wider recovery project, to move forward an enhanced marketing campaign to highlight the range of visitor experiences on offer throughout the District.

Local businesses immediately impacted following the eruption are currently working through the process of applying for a portion of the emergency fund announced by Central Government late last year.

However, with the shoulder seasons usually the busiest months for international visitors, the full impact to the District’s economy is yet to be felt, with visitor spend spread across many sectors of the economy including retail, hospitality, transport as well as tourism operators and accommodation.

Whakatāne District Council Tourism and Events Manager Nicola Burgess says boosting tourism marketing for both domestic and international visitors will help mitigate potential financial losses through the shoulder seasons.

“Details of our marketing plan are being finalised with MBIE and it will unlock some of the emergency funding announced by MBIE in December.

“We’re immensely grateful to MBIE for their support and see boosting our business as usual marketing activities, especially to a domestic audience, as a short to medium-term way of encouraging more visitors and recouping the drop in international visitors,” she says.

The domestic market accounts for 80% of visitors to the Whakatāne District, with $119 million spent annually. Ms Burgess says marketing activities will initially focus on growing this market.

“While we see growing our domestic visitors as the best quick-win, bringing international visitors back is also important but will take more time.

“Whakaari/White Island was by-in-large the most popular international visitor attraction for us, so alongside Tourism Bay of Plenty, we have a lot of work to do to get those international visitors back,” she says.

Whakatāne District Mayor Judy Turner says while there is a lot of work to be done, there are some exciting opportunities in the local tourism sector.

“One heartening story that has come from international visitors since the Whakaari tragedy is that they are pleasantly surprised with the range of other visitor experiences here. We need to capitalise on this and shine a light on all the other wonderful things to do here throughout most months of the year.”

Increasing tourism marketing activities for the District forms part the wider Whakaari/White Island economic recovery project, with Whakatāne District Council working alongside partners, Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa, EBOP Chamber of Commerce and Toi EDA.