Central Otago top place
Cromwell Heritage Precinct and Markets overlooking Lake Dunstan. Photo Will Nelson, Tourism Central Otago

Central Otago has come out on top of the list of 31 regions recording growth in total visitor spend for 2021. 

The region recorded a 19.3% growth in spend compared to 2020 – with the next closest region being Clutha at 19.1% and is well ahead of the national average of 4%. Spend on retail was the most significant proportion of visitor spend in the region at 65%. 

“Although 2021 continually provided new challenges caused by the COVID pandemic to every corner of New Zealand, particularly with the ongoing limitations for travel and business, we should celebrate these results and be thankful that our community has benefitted from the commitment of New Zealanders to explore their own country,” Tourism Central Otago General Manager Dylan Rushbrook said.

“Kiwis have more than made up for the loss of international visitors in our region, and we are so very grateful for that.

Together with the growing profile of Central Otago, it all helps our communities to thrive during these difficult times.

Visitors have always been important to Central Otago’s economy, as in our small communities those employed in tourism are the same people who are volunteer fire fighters, school bus drivers, club volunteers, and so on, the roles that are the very fabric of our communities.”

“My observation is that the ongoing investment from both the private and public sector in tourism and other sectors has built on the solid economic foundation that the region enjoyed pre COVID 19.

In addition to new visitor product developed by local operators, infrastructure like the Central Otago Touring Route and the Lake Dunstan Trail all provide even more compelling reasons to explore the region.

Anecdotally we are hearing that some tourism operators have never been so busy, but like almost every other sector, many are struggling to find staff”. 

Despite the heartening results, there is obvious concern around the immediate impacts of the Omicron outbreak on our local operators, and the wider region.

The ongoing difficulties being faced by Central Otago’s primary gateways – Queenstown in particular, will create flow on effects that could stretch well into the future. 

“We need Queenstown to pull through this and be the jewel in New Zealand’s tourism crown.

We’ve said it plenty of times before, when Queenstown is doing well, we all do well.” Mr Rushbrook said.  

Independent Visitor Insight Research undertaken in the latter half of 2021, reaffirmed that visitors’ expectations are exceeded when they visit Central Otago and that it has strong appeal for short breaks and holidays.

The research highlights that the success of the region is in its authentic experiences, people and environment. 

“Work is almost complete on a destination management framework which is focussed on ensuring that the demands of the visitor economy achieve the right balance so that the residents of Central Otago are happy and continue to welcome visitors.

We have always taken the view the visitors must enrich the people and place of Central Otago, and so we are really excited to share what that will look like in the coming months,” Central Otago District Council Chief Executive Sanchia Jacobs said.

Ms Jacob’s continues “While the next 12 months remain relatively unpredictable for tourism, the future for Central Otago looks positive with so many New Zealanders discovering how special this place is.

We know they will be back and encouraging their friends and family to visit too”