Late last year Chief Executive of Hawke’s Bay Tourism, Hamish Saxton said that after another rollercoaster year for Hawke’s Bay’s visitor economy, things were on the up. “ Considering where we started in January 2022, the visitor economy in Food and Wine Country is coming up roses . . . or perhaps that should be Rosé?”
How quickly the wind can change! And in this case the beautiful summer breeze turned to cyclonic gales ripping through this region where tourism is the third largest contributor to GDP.
Proclaiming itself ‘Food and Wine Country’, the Hawkes Bay economy relies heavily on it’s ability to produce food and wine, and this is what visitors come to see and taste. The Inaugral Harvest Hawkes Bay, scheduled for April, is a shinning example of this.
Harvest Hawkes Bay event organiser Liz Pollock said about the launch of this new festival “the bounty of Hawke’s Bay in autumn is incredible – our winemakers are busy with vintages, fruit is coming off the trees and our local restaurants have menus filled to the brim with delicious, fresh produce. However, there’s no single place to go where all of this is on offer. That’s what we wan t Harvest Hawke’s Bay to do – bring together the region’s finest wine and food for a day and celebrate all that is delicious in Food and Wine Country.”
In a media release last week it was announced “organisers of Harvest Hawke’s Bay have made the tough decision to reschedule the event from April 1 to Saturday November 25 this year.”
“With so many locals still dealing with the aftermath of the cyclone, road access into the region limited, and accommodation options stretched, we felt it was not an ideal time to host the event. However, Hawke’s Bay remains a premium wine and food destination and we can’t wait to celebrate these sectors once more,” Liz Pollock says.
Hawke’s Bay Airport is fully operational and Air New Zealand is flying to Hawke’s Bay from Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch daily. A number of roads in and around the region remain closed, including both State Highway 2, between Napier and Gisborne, and State Highway 5, between Napier and Taupo. This limited access to the region is likely to be one of the biggest hurdles for tourism operators. Jessica Wiggins from Hawkes Bay Tourism says “the vast majority of tourism and hospitality operators– as many as 82 percent– were incredibly fortunate to avoid damage. Many are already operating as usual and will value the support as the wider region focuses on recovery.
Pre Covid and with borders fully open, visitors to Hawke’s Bay spent $680 million, of which $166 million or 25%, was spent by international visitors. This means the vast majority of tourism came from Kiwi’s, many of whom would have driven to the region.
Tourism is estimated to represent 9-10% of employment in the region. It will, therefore, play an important role in the recovery and rebuild. But in addition to the lack of access to the region will be the fight for accommodation as displaced locals take up beds that were created for tourists.
Organisers of the Hawkes Bay Harvest Festival see the dilemma, Lorde postponed her concert yet Sting appears to be going ahead at Mission Estate. The Feed contacted organisers several times for comment but received no reply. But this is the dilemma, or one of many, facing this region. Tourism and hospitality, two industries that only just survived the upheaval of the last three years need visitors to survive, but is it the right time to go?
Perhaps we need to create some volunteer tourism opportunities. Instead of heading to Mexico to build a house for the homeless, or Nepal to pick up rubbish from Mount Everest, Kiwi’s could sign up for a holiday in Hawkes Bay where they planted apple trees or grape vines?