Burst bubble boosts the BOP
Holiday homes in Tauranga and the wider Bay of Plenty have seen a surge in forward bookings as a result of the trans-Tasman bubble pause.
According to new data, bookings in the region during the term four school holidays, which begin on October 1, have risen by 211 per cent year-on-year.
The immediate lift, according to figures from holiday home management firm Bachcare, is underlined by a 37 per cent increase nationally when compared to the same period last year.
While the news has been roundly welcomed by tourism chiefs in the Bay of Plenty, one analyst has coupled her optimism with a word of warning as businesses in the region’s hospitality sector continue to struggle.
Stacey Linton is a marketing research analyst at Tourism Bay of Plenty – a destination management organisation that helps to drive the area’s visitor economy.
She is encouraged to see such an uptake in the accommodation industry, there remains an air of caution as the effects of Covid-19 continue to cast a shadow on the long-term outlook for New Zealand’s tourism trade.
“With the indefinite suspension of the trans-Tasman bubble, Kiwis are once again showing their resilience and support for the tourism industry by travelling locally and exploring our backyard,” says Stacey.
“The October holidays mark the start of warmer weather and more outdoor adventures, and our region provides plenty of places to explore. The uncertainty surrounding the reopening of the bubble means some immediate holiday plans are likely to be redirected locally, and this is all great news.
“Figures from Air New Zealand show strong domestic route travel – in particular the Tauranga to Christchurch route, which is operating at 150 per cent compared to pre-Covid levels.
“While this information is heartening, there is no denying these are tough times for the tourism industry.
“In the year prior to Covid-19, international visitors, including cruise passengers, poured $250 million into the coastal Bay of Plenty’s economy, and this is unlikely to return in any major way in the foreseeable future.”
While some of the effects of Covid-19 have been mitigated by the region’s historically strong domestic visitor economy, Stacey admits that some operators have already closed or are in hibernation.
She also claims the trans-Tasman bubble brought relatively minimal benefits to struggling sectors, while the ongoing issues with outbreaks in Australia make it difficult to have confidence in the reliability of the market.
“The effects of Covid-19 on tourism will continue to have an impact for the next few years,” adds Stacey, “and the longer these border closures are in place, the more strain businesses are under.
“Without international visitors, there is a significant gap that tourism businesses are struggling to fill.
“Labour shortages need to be addressed, particularly in the area of hospitality. Many of our restaurants are running at reduced hours because of this, so we have to keep our eye on the support that’s needed while Covid still shows its effects.”
Despite these challenges, there is a more encouraging upside. Recent Marketview transaction data shows domestic visitor spending was up by around 28 per cent in the year ending June 2021 compared to the previous year.
Most of that increase is concentrated in the retail and hospitality space, with total electronic card spend in the region up by about 12 per cent on pre-Covid numbers, across both domestic and international visitor spend.
“Essentially this means the growth of the domestic market has offset the loss of the international visitor market over this time,” says Stacey.
“The coastal Bay of Plenty remains a popular destination for families and nature lovers, and accommodation providers, hospitality, attractions, retail, and beyond will benefit. Tourism and its health as an industry affects us all.”
Bachcare spokesperson Zaina Razzaq says their data suggests New Zealanders are simply not confident of a stable travel bubble reopening in time for the October break.
She says domestic travellers appear to be changing their purchasing behaviour to adapt to uncertainty caused by Australia’s Covid case numbers.
“Overseas family holidays can take months to plan,” says Zaina, “and most Kiwi travellers are not willing to take the chance of being caught out by an 11th hour change in the bubble’s status.
“Traditionally, the term four holidays are not as strong as other times of the year, as many Kiwis save their annual leave for mid-winter and Christmas.
“So this early surge in booking numbers bodes well for the domestic sector.”