The launch of the Southland Murihiku Destination Strategy last week has the potential to be a “game changer” for the region, with several areas particularly reaping in the benefits of the new plan.
The strategy has set a target to bring $1 billion in visitor spend by 2025 and grow overnight visitation to 1.3 million visitors by 2029. It is being seen as a “blueprint” for Southland’s future by “identifying the areas of opportunity that will lead to increased visitation and tourism revenue”.
In 2018 Southland had a total estimated visitor spend of just under $659 million and just over one million in overnight visitation. Great South tourism and events general manager Bobbi Brown said the work put into the strategy would go a long way in helping them achieve their goals of growth in both areas.
“It’s not everyday you get to do a 10-year plan in something that is potentially a game changer for the region, especially if we do it right. We’ve taken the responsibility to do it really seriously. It’s not just like a tick box, it’s actually been we’re going to do this right. Because if it is right we will see the benefits in tourism. But if it’s not we won’t. We’re really confident with what we’ve got. It makes sense and it’s getting validated by the communities.”
The strategy was developed through a series of extensive consultation, interviews, workshops and surveys completed by more than 390 people and was initiated by the Southland Regional Development Agency (SRDA) and guided by a strategic advisory group Stafford Strategy.
As a result of this work, the strategy identified more than 60 actions that relate to one or more of the five components of destination management: product development, infrastructure, governance, sustainability and marketing and promotion.
According to the strategy, a variety of agencies and groups have “a key role to play in its effective implementation” and it strongly aligns with the Southland Regional Development Strategy (SoRDS) as well as the New Zealand-Aotearoa Government Tourism Strategy.
Great South chief executive Ann Lockhart said while Great South would play an overall coordination role in the implementation of the strategy, its overall success will rely upon a collaborative approach with local and central government, key stakeholders, operators and members of the tourism sector all playing a pivotal role.
Five “high-priority investment recommendations” were also pointed out in the strategy, with Bluff set to have a significant benefit with both the Terminal Tourism Development Hub and Southern Marine Discovery Centre listed as two of the high-priority recommendations.
Mrs Brown said Bluff was a town with huge opportunity.
“Bluff has got quite a lot of potential because it’s quite untapped… if you look at all the community activity that’s going on in Bluff, from Bluff 2024, the predator free plan, Bluff Promotions, there’s lots. Plus all your other big business. I think you see that the local community is really behind looking at the future of their township. In a way this strategy just complements that and just tries to give them another platform.”
Bluff business owner Cherie Chapman said the projects listed in the strategy would bring great opportunities for small businesses in the town to develop.
“It’s fantastic that two out of the five major projects are focused on developing Bluff into a world class place to visit right at the gateway to our Southern Ocean… Bluff needs to be showcased. It’s a beautiful town that will be a mustsee, must-do town beyond the signpost and the ferry.”
Another of the five highpriority recommendations was boutique regional accommodation, with Mrs Brown saying that several key locations had been identified in the region where a variety of new accommodation could be placed.
“The type of accommodation and product you provide is what the type of visitor you’ll get… it’s got three types. It’s got eco-accommodation, it’s got high end and it’s got boutique. So the consultant thought that those three things fitted the type of experience in the region that we are and it would help about getting that high yield rather than getting that huge volume coming through.
“You’ve got Hump Ridge Track for example. So that will be a Great Walk in October 2021. So of course we want to put things around there so that again we can get them in to stay longer and spend more.”
Mrs Brown said the next phase would involve going around Southland to the 11 promotional groups in the region to discuss the strategy further and receive feedback from the community.
“No matter what they say in the strategy, if the local community don’t think it’s going to work or there are other things that they don’t know, then we’ve got to know that.”
This article was originally written for The Advocate. You can read the published version here