Visitor trend data highlights uneven impact of COVID-19 on West Coast

07 June 2021
Development West Coast
Newly released visitor trend data further highlights the uneven impact COVID-19 border closures are having across the West Coast, with Reefton booming while Franz Josef continues to struggle.

April 2021 visitor trend data released

A monthly report, commissioned by Development West Coast (DWC), shows total tourism spending in the region was down 9.7% for the year to April 2021 (-$15.2m), compared to a 3.6% decline nationally.

Total visitor spending in Westland district was down 33.4% (-$28.8m), despite a 5% increase in Hokitika. The fall was largely on the back of the struggles in Glacier Country, where visitor spending in Franz Josef fell by 49%. 

Grey district experienced a 10.4% increase (+$4m) in total visitor spending. 

Buller has been one of New Zealand’s success stories experiencing 29.8% growth (+$9.5m) in total visitor spending, with expenditure jumping 42% in Reefton and 21% in Westport for the year to April 2021.

Post-Covid, the West Coast has been successful at attracting domestic visitors with domestic spending up 63.9% for the year to April 2021 -- the second highest increase in the country, only behind Queenstown.

“While it’s great to see more and more Kiwis visiting the Coast, the reality is domestic visitors cannot fill the massive spending hole left by international tourists,” says DWC Chief Executive Heath Milne.

The visitor spend figures used in the report are based on electronic card transactions.

“While the figures do not represent the exact spend in our region, they are a good indicator of the trends in visitor spending,” says Mr Milne.

Focusing on the month of April 2021, using April 2019 as a pre-COVID comparison point, total visitor numbers to the West Coast were down 40%.

There were 4,367 average daily visitors to the West Coast in the month of April 2021, down from 7,327 in April 2019.

The average daily visitors peaked in April on the Saturday of Easter weekend, at 8,427.

Mr Milne says the latest data further highlights the uneven impact the COVID related border closures are having across the region, with Glacier Country continuing to be one of the hardest hit areas in the country.

In response to the crisis, DWC has been distributing cashflow support to businesses through its $5m Glacier Country Business Support Fund (GCBSF).

“As part of the GCBSF, we have also recently engaged Geoff Marks for a nine-month position based in Glacier Country. Geoff will be working with the community to market and promote the area,” says Mr Milne.

Having previously worked with Lake Wānaka Tourism, Geoff brings with him a good knowledge and understanding of the New Zealand tourism industry.

Mr Milne said there is a lot of positive work going on in the background to support COVID-19 impacted businesses.

Kotahitanga ki te Uru (working together for the West) partnership has to date endorsed/approved $11.1m in funding towards projects that will create an estimated 214 full time equivalent jobs on the West Coast.

“In particular we should acknowledge the great work being done through the Kaimahi for Nature South Westland initiative which has to date helped 40 businesses retain over 100 staff.”

For the latest West Coast visitor trend data see:

View April 2021 visitor trends