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Cashing in on tourism

Wairarapa is riding a tourist dollar wave, but one district is missing out


By Hayley Gastmeier and Emily Norman

Wairarapa is raking in the tourist bucks, with the region bringing in $163 million from visitors over the last year alone.

But while Masterton and South Wairarapa’s tourist take continues to soar, with visitor spending up 19 per cent and 40 per cent respectively since 2014, spending in Carterton has stayed flat over the same period.

In the 12 months to February, Masterton saw a tourism spend of $89m, which was up from $85m the year before, new figures released by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Enterprise show.

In South Wairarapa the 12-month figure was $62m, up from $53m in 2016.

But spending in Carterton was just $13m to February, a drop from about $14m the year prior.

Destination Wairarapa says Carterton has a lot going for it and retailers simply need to “open their doors” to encourage visitors to the high street, while the town’s mayor says the council is in the process of building the foundations for tourism success.

The figures show that Wairarapa overall had seen an eight per cent growth in expenditure in the past year – greater than the national figure of five per cent.

Destination Wairarapa general manager David Hancock said although Carterton’s tourism revenue had remained stagnant for some time, the town “was really picking up”.

With many people visiting the Carterton district to explore Mt Holdsworth, the Waiohine Gorge, and the new mountain bike track Rivenrock, “there’s plenty more potential for Carterton to do more out of their visitors”.

Carterton retailers now needed to simply “open their doors” to reverse the long-held reputation of shops being closed on weekends and holidays.

“And it’s not going to be up to one or two [shops], they’ll have to have half the street open at least, showing people driving through that it’s worth stopping,” he said.

“It will take a good eight months to educate the market that they’re open.”

Mr Hancock cited Paua World as being a leading example in the town.

“They’re a seven-day operation and they get it . . . that’s the approach we need.”

The Heart of Arts gallery on High St was also open every day of the week, he said.

“The key thing we’re trying to do is encourage all districts to open their [businesses’] doors seven days a week.”

Mr Hancock said $8m of Carterton’s $13m revenue was generated through retail.

“And that’s where their big opportunity lies”.

Carterton Mayor John Booth said he was aware the district did not stand up to the tourism spending of other Wairarapa areas.

“In Masterton, you’ve got the bigger population, and a lot more hotels, motels, and those facilities. We don’t.

“We have one motel, but we do have quite a few homestays, and B&Bs.”

He said Carterton’s tourism revenue was lower simply for that reason.

“When you look at South Wairarapa, you’ve got three towns, and they get a lot of tourist traffic with Martinborough especially.”

Mr Booth said the town’s main focus was to “look after our locals first”.

“We don’t have what those other two districts have in terms of the infrastructure, but Carterton has sort of always done its own thing.”

He said council was looking at getting its own infrastructure up to scratch before shifting its focus to tourism.

He admitted the main street had been “pretty quiet for a little while”.

“But all of a sudden, we’ve got people starting to open new businesses.”

The town had seen “a couple of new hairdressers” in the recent weeks, and “a really nice tapas bar” would be opening soon on High St.

Wairarapa Chamber of Commerce general manager Catherine Rossiter-Stead said the new figures demonstrated the strength of Wairarapa’s tourism economy.

“This is testament to the outstanding work undertaken by organisations such as Destination Wairarapa.

“As the Wairarapa Chamber of Commerce continues to grow, so will representation and input from local business.

“This I personally believe will help to ensure that all five towns in Wairarapa are well represented and will play their part in helping to continue to grow tourism in the region.”

In the year ending January 2017, statistics show that international guest nights were up on average 40.9 per cent against the previous year, while domestic guest nights were up 6.6 per cent.

Domestic visitor spend was $127m, and spending by Australian visitors was $11m.


  1. I left Auckland to live in Wairarapa over a year ago. Unfortunately I chose a town that is too tourist and posh retail focused. I now live happily in Carterton and think mayor John Booth’s comment says it all. – “Mr Booth said the town’s main focus was to “look after our locals first”.

  2. It is a difficult situation, yes the retailers do need to be open, yes the travellers will learn that they are open and eventually will start stopping, but in the mean time the retailers have to survive while, slowly, very slowly, the numbers grow. And there in lies the problem. Having run a business on the high street for seven years I can attest to the fact that the financial burden of waiting for growth is almost too hard. While the expenses, rent, power, licences, council charges never stop, the income is, at its best erratic and unpredictable. And of course wages. The fact is that no retailer can open seven days, twelve or more hours a day (as we tried at one stage) without staff and their wages must be paid.
    Personally I don’t point the finger at anyone in particular. Council could help by reducing overheads or supporting businesses by helping with décor, signage and advertising. The local population could support local businesses better by shopping /eating/drinking locally and bigger operations such as wineries and clothing boutiques could support Carterton better by focussing local rather than being so focussed on the town down the road. Landlords could recognise that the security of leasing to Lawyers and real-estate agents is not helping to enliven the high street and even the Paua Factory could move part of their operation into the town rather than attracting tourists away up a side street. But no one is individually responsible and no one is to blame.
    In my years of connection with Carterton a number of businesses have closed and moved “down the road”, and who can blame them, the tourists are there already, it is a destination, while the rents are higher the returns are higher.
    Pointing the finger is a game that will achieve little, what is needed is a concerted approach, a community approach and a love of Carterton.
    I for one would love to return to Carterton. I think my “lounge” could fill a gap in the community, however the fact remains that a business is not a service operation, it has to pay its way, give a living to those running the business.
    Good luck Carterton and to those out there trying, Kia Kaha!

  3. Carterton has no information centre after hours, no brochures detailing activities like cycle routes or other stuff. Actually, even the cafés are passé after hours (Wild Oats the exception) and there is nowhere to sit and sip wine other than the bar in an hotel. I live in the district but see that there is no reason for tourists to hang about. Full marks to handcraft shop and art shop for trying.
    Even the Sunday farmers market lacks verve. A few junk stalls would add value.

  4. I find it always interesting with figures. Politicians and council staff have little understanding of retail. More and more pressure is placed on retailers to provide the country with the growth small communities need. Destination wairarapa with its head in the sand continues to throw money at events. When did anyone ask a retailer how it is for them, support them in any way, retailers are the backbone of tourism, few understand let alone customers who dont shop locally.

Comments are closed.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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