Spend up big with local retailers

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  • Tourism Business Advice director Lesley Immink says Whakatane needs to be proactive in its decisions and marketing of the district to avoid being “lost in the noise” of other regions who will be vying hard with higher budgets, to get cut through to the New Zealanders who when ready, will be able to travel and spend.

ONE of positive things for the Whakatane district is that our visitor market is made up of 80 percent domestic and 20 percent international visitors, even though White Island Tours customer base was the opposite. ie, 80 percent international and 20 percent domestic (approx).

Since December 9 our international market has significantly declined and of course once the borders closed, to practically zero from visitors.

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) monthly regional tourism estimates for the Whakatane district as at end January 2020 had our spend profile being 82.3 percent as domestic ($115 million) and 17.7 percent international ($25 million) which correlates to the visitor profile.

The spend data is collected every time you make an electronic purchase at the point of sale. Eg, buy a dress at Rositas, groceries at New World or buy a fishing rod at Great Outdoors.

Retail is a very important sector for communities and is categorised into four retail sub-groups.

The highest value category for spend in the Whakatane district is the retail and hospitality sector (66 percent ). This includes retail alcohol, food/beverage (supermarkets), retail food/beverage serving outlets (restaurants, bars, cafes), retail fuel and automotive products and retail other.

Other sector categories include:

  • Other passenger transport covers: taxi, other road transport, water passenger transport, rail, travel agency and tour company travel arrangements
  • Other tourism product category covers: parking, movies, hairdressing and beauty, health and fitness, laundry and dry-cleaning, specialist medical services, goods and equipment rental and repair and automotive repairs and maintenance (not fuel and products).
  • Accommodation: includes all forms of accommodation
  • Culture, recreation, and gambling category covers: attractions and activities, museums, zoological, gardens, performing arts and venues, libraries, sports and recreation venues, facilities operations (events), nature reserve and conservation parks, health and fitness, amusement parks and casinos. This is the spend category that would include White Island tours sales.

While we consider White Island tours to be our iconic drawcard to the region, you can see it is the retail sector that provides the most economic benefit to our district. It is a shame due to Covid-19 that the February and March statistics are not available until mid-May, but there will be no surprise that spend will have declined severely across the range of categories.

And so… the silver lining. The fact that we have an 80 percent domestic visitor population means that if we are smart and move quickly, we’ll have a destination marketing edge ahead of other regions who are more reliant on international visitors, eg, Rotorua, Queenstown, Kaikoura.

Who will have the money and time to travel in the foreseeable future? Who are travel ready? Answer – the retired and baby boomers. The retired population clearly are the answer to both these questions as the majority of New Zealand will not be holidaying for some time.

What do they want as a sector group? Being a generation of thrifty savers, they want value, affordability, and good service. They want to be sold, encouraged, to be appreciated and pay a fair price – not what operators might charge international visitors. Is this target group hard to market to? No, it’s easy. Is it expensive to market to them? No, it’s super easy.

Firstly, every senior citizen registered with the government receives a newsletter (732,000 as per IRD figures end Mar 2018).

The database is already there and under the current environment, hopefully shared freely rather than having to pay for it.

Secondly organisations like AA New Zealand who has 1.7 million members and NZMCA (NZ Motor Caravan Association) which has 77,000 members, receive monthly magazines. Then you could look at bowling clubs, golf clubs, RSAs, Probus and other service clubs etc, who all have newsletters with print and digital communication channels. And don’t be fooled in thinking that the travelling retiree sector are not digitally inclined. Because they are constantly travelling, they are “up with the play” and have great networks. They buy online and click and collect as they go through the country.

Rod Meharry of Matata who is a NZMCA member shared with me an event they were going to attend in Australia before Covid-19 broke. Rod was booked to join 10,000 other motor-homers at the Big Red Bash music festival this year in Birdsville, Australia, the middle of nowhere… It unfortunately was cancelled but demonstrates the level of innovation you need to create some cut through and smart targeted marketing.

He suggests let’s host a Big Green Bash in the Whakatane district.

Thinking outside the box, those with motor homes and caravans are more likely to arrive if you tempt them with “free”. Consider “free stay” as a marketing tool. Google has made a fortune out of “free”. The members of NZMCA for example love to gather and enjoy what regions have to offer.

Give them a large grassed area eg. racecourse, some basic services, water, ablutions etc with a reason, and they will come. Look at Mystery Creek when the motor show is on.

Prepare a package exclusively with NZMCA to offer their members – a week of fun and activities in your town, and you can get a proportion of those 77,000 members.

We provide the “free space”, put on a “free bus” to transport them from town (so they don’t have to drive their motorhomes), have a theme and entice them to activities during the day with discount vouchers and in the evening they can choose from a range of restaurants and bars knowing they have safe transport options back to their motorhomes.

Yes, the accommodation sector may not benefit initially, but this is phase 1 of multi-stage marketing strategy.

Whakatane is already a holiday destination who has a safe swimming beach, great range of outdoor activities with Te Urewera and Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tane Conservation Park on our doorstep. Since our light pollution is low in general, with some smart thinking we could adapt our lighting policy and become a “night sky destination”.

Currently Whakatane pays a contribution to Tourism BOP each year to do their international marketing.

Now is the time to re-purpose these funds and use this spend to develop/market events for domestic visitors with food, wine, golf, cycle, and other outdoor packages. Perhaps create a purpose retiree E-bike weekend away package.

Having a strong retail marketing strategy combined with enhancing our other natural attractions, and new Provincial Growth Fund economic development proposals in the pipeline is the start of helping our recovery.

  • The views expressed here are solely my own and do not express the view or opinions of any organisation with which I am associated with.