Waiheke Island Tourism Forum has marked a successful year with its AGM and already has several initiatives it hopes to progress in 2018.
The forum is focusing on a dual role – ensuring the views of tourism operators are heard during decision-making and looking to extend visitor numbers at off-peak periods on the island.
Formed in 2016, the forum proved its worth early when council tourism and events agency Ateed pulled funding on the visitor I-site at Matiatia.
Local intervention saw service temporarily restored; the forum then negotiated a three-year contract to operate the kiosk from 1 July this year, supported by Ateed.
Elliot Stubbs was employed to greet visitors at peak hours and a second staff member, Alex Hynds, has joined him for the visitor season. The kiosk will be staffed from 9.30am to 2.30pm seven days through summer.
Another highlight was the Waiheke is Warmer bus advertising and social media campaign promoting the island in Auckland during the British and Irish Lions’ rugby tour. Many red jerseyed-fans made their way to island hospitality spots while the Lions themselves held a farewell dinner here.
The forum also took a stall at a trade show for hotel concierges to brief them on what Waiheke has to offer.
The forum is establishing itself behind the scenes in advocacy and consultation roles, says marketing committee member Tess Shaw. It became involved in consultation on proposed changes to parking arrangements affecting tour operators at Matiatia; discussing the impacts of new legislation affecting passenger service vehicles and proposed changes to work visas affecting the vineyard and hospitality employers on the island.
Membership of the organisation has grown from 48 to 66 in the past 12 months. Looking forward, there are plans to explore the potential for Waiheke to be designated a significant tourism area, similar to Queenstown, which could see work visas fast-tracked.
Tess Shaw says forum members remain focused on creating a year-round sustainable tourism industry. While the island attracted 290,000 visitors last January, the visitor season remains highly seasonal.
“One or our roles is about promoting the island outside peak times so we take the dip out – encouraging people to visit outside the summer peak.”
Another aim is to attract visitors from beyond Auckland who may wish to spend a night or two on the island, broadening the base from day-trippers.
“We are working on a marketing strategy to further tell the Waiheke story and looking at how we target visitors who want to come and stay, rather than tourists.
“It’s not just about marketing – there are a lot of different components to the tourism offer.”
As for the coming visitor peak, forum members are optimistic that, with new boats and a half-hour timetable, ferry operator Fullers has put last summer’s woes behind it. • Geoff Cumming