Overview

With its iconic mountain, acclaimed surf beaches, and world-class gardens, galleries, events and walkways, Taranaki offers the best of New Zealand in a single regional destination.

In 2017, Lonely Planet judged Taranaki the second-best region in the world to visit, lifting the lid on the largely undiscovered region. The result of this accolade rapidly built Taranaki’s reputation as a destination hotspot; one that provides something a little different as visitors look to connect with its rich Māori culture and history, enjoy authentic experiences, and sample its laid-back, relaxed but sophisticated culture.

Tourism has almost doubled in value during the past decade, but it is still relatively underdeveloped. In a post-COVID-19 travel climate, Taranaki’s visitor industry is well placed to respond and recover, and there remains huge potential for growth. 

Central and local government and local authorities are laying the foundation for this by investing in the region. More than $19 million will see upgrades to hiking tracks and facilities in the national park that surround Taranaki Maunga, to enhance the more than 200km trail network and establish The Taranaki Crossing. This will introduce an iconic multi-day 41km Maunga ki te Moana – mountain to sea – walking experience, increasing both domestic and international (when borders reopen) visitor numbers.

Taranaki is becoming more accessible and attractive to visitors, aided by major development of the northern route of State Highway 3 to New Plymouth and State Highway 43 – the ‘Forgotten World Highway’ – to Taranaki’s east, a new modern airport terminal, investigations into extending the airport runway, and Port Taranaki working on bringing more cruise ships to the region (which will resume at an appropriate time).

Investment opportunities across accommodation, visitor tours and experiences, and hospitality are waiting to be explored.
 

WOMAD

On a late summer’s evening each March, as the gates open and a sea of happy faces rush into Brooklands Park marking the start of another WOMAD festival, Emere Wano watches on with a mix of disbelief and elation.

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“I have to pinch myself that a region this size puts on a world-class event like WOMAD every year,” says the event director and New Zealand programme manager of the annual three-day international festival of music, arts and dance.

“We’re the smallest city in the world to host a WOMAD, and everyone thinks it shouldn’t be possible. But we have a fantastic connection with the community and our corporate partners, an amazing group of more than 300 volunteers who want to be involved, and a hardworking festival team that makes it happen every year,” she says.

Established in 1980 by well-known English musician Peter Gabriel, whose desire was to showcase music from other cultures, WOMAD is now a global phenomenon, held in more than 20 countries.

In 2019, WOMAD International announced that TAFT, in partnership with the New Plymouth District Council, had secured the festival for at least another 10 years, through to 2029, although the festival will adapt its delivery in 2021 due to COVID-19.

WOMAD’s value to Taranaki is immense – the festival is a key part of the region’s identity and has a sizeable impact on the economy and visitor industry.

The Taranaki Arts Festival Trust (TAFT) secured the event (initially held in Auckland) in 2002. In 2019, more than 17,000 people danced their way through 100 hours of music across seven stages at the stunning central city location of Brooklands Park. The event, and associated accommodation, food and general spend, generated $6.5 million for the regional economy. All up, across the event’s history in Taranaki, more than $125 million has been generated, with 70% of the festival’s attendees coming from outside the region.

“First-time visitors to Taranaki often come for WOMAD, but then return to the region bringing family or friends,” Emere says.

Emere, who has been involved with WOMAD in Taranaki since day one and is the only TAFT staff member to work fulltime on the festival, says the region’s size is a key to the success of the event.

“When WOMAD did their first site visit back in the early 2000s, they were looking for two things – the venue’s proximity to facilities, amenities and transport, and the community feel and look, which is important in terms of the WOMAD ethos and values,” she says. “Our size is a real advantage as there is no outside noise of other things going on, unlike bigger cities.”

The investment from corporate partners is crucial to WOMAD’s long stay in Taranaki.

“They are integral to the festival’s success. We call them the WOMAD whānau, because they are more like family than partners and sponsors, and many of them have been with us since the beginning, which provides stability,” Emere says.

“They see it as being really beneficial – they help us financially and, in turn, we help provide them with an international platform and a connection with our large audience. The fact we’re a global festival and we have connections to other WOMAD festivals, means our partners see that as being an incredible alliance.”

TAFT has gained a reputation nationwide for its ability to develop, organise and run successful annual events and festivals, including the internationally recognised Taranaki Garden Festival, and the Taranaki Arts Festival.

In 2017, WOMAD was named Best National Event of the Year at the New Zealand Event Awards.

“By working on many events annually and having skilled people, we’ve developed the capability and capacity to deliver world-class events,” Emere says.

Ngāmotu Hotels Limited Partnership

Taranaki’s increasing reputation as a top holiday destination prompted three separate Māori commercial entities to join together and invest in the region’s growing visitor industry.

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Ngāmotu Hotels Limited Partnership, a joint venture of Parininihi ki Waitōtara Inc, Te Atiawa Iwi Holdings, and Taranaki Iwi Holdings, bought the 85-room Novotel New Plymouth Hobson Hotel from successful entrepreneur Phillip Brown on 1 January 2019.

Brown, who established the international online tendering company Tenderlink in Taranaki and sold it to Fairfax Media in 2010, built the 4.5-star premier hotel in 2015. Part of the international Accor Hotels Group, the $25 million hotel was built to service the growing demand for tourist accommodation in New Plymouth.

Taranaki has become a popular destination for visitors wishing to connect with the environment and culture in a region that boasts a stunning national park, outstanding art and culture gatherings, modern cafés and restaurants, craft breweries and food producers, and world-class events.

And it was this growing reputation and the unlimited potential for Taranaki to expand on its tourism offerings that encouraged the three iwi commercial entities to invest together.

“It’s a good investment,” says Ngāmotu Hotels Limited Partnership chair Warrick Tauwhare-George. “It is local, it is substantial, and it is working with a lot of people – staff, Accor, and a growing customer base both domestically and internationally.

“When the opportunity came up, it could have been quite easy for just one of the entities to buy it in their own right. But the parties built the relationships, trust and confidence to look beyond and know that, over time, shared multiple investments and multiple opportunities are better for the whole than the individuals,” Warrick says.

Statistics from Tourism New Zealand show that between 2002 and 2019, guest nights in Taranaki increased from 380,000 to 675,000 – a 78% growth.

In the year to January 2020, visitor spend in the region was an estimated $429 million – the third highest growth rate in the country.

In addition, the regional development strategy Tapuae Roa: Make Way for Taranaki Action Plan (2018) has forecast annual Taranaki visitor numbers to increase from 1.1 million to 1.8 million by 2025.

The COVID-19 pandemic may push that forecast backwards, creating an unpredictable hospitality market.

Addressing the uncertainty, Warrick explains “Ngāmotu Hotels Limited Partnership entered the pandemic in a financially strong position, and as with any such investment, you need to have a strategy that is founded on a long-term view, thereby ensuring you are not forced into short-term suboptimal decisions.”

In the same situation as other hotels around the country, during Alert Level 4, the Novotel Ngāmotu Taranaki Hotel went into hibernation with a skeleton crew maintaining the assist over this period. Once the country moved to Alert Level 3 the hotel re-opened with bookings and occupancy almost immediately following.

“While occupancy numbers were certainly not as per pre-COVID, like a number of other businesses in the region, the Queen’s Birthday weekend after lockdown saw occupancy levels exceed 80% of capacity, which is very encouraging and just reinforces the view that the partnership invested in a very sound, well performing asset. This also indicates that people are willing to travel, to visit Taranaki and see what is on offer in the region.”

Taranaki has a lot to offer potential visitor industry and hospitality investors, including Māori.

“Looking from an outside-in perspective, I’ve spent enough time here to appreciate that Taranaki has great offers. It’s a little gem. Whether it’s the Taranaki Garden Festival, WOMAD, the tattoo festival, or whether it’s the waterfront, or the beauty and majesty of the maunga – Taranaki has a lot to offer and it can differentiate itself from a lot of other parts of New Zealand.

“And there’s definitely more opportunity for iwi to invest in Taranaki. I think there’s enough capacity for those within Taranaki to do more, so I think there will be further commitments made here. But it’s not exclusively
Taranaki iwi dependant – there is an openness to outside Māori investment.”

He says there is also a real drive and willingness by local authorities to engage with investors to ensure regional progress and development is ongoing.

“The private sector and councils work really well together. The city and region are a credit to that in how they present themselves, which is a drawcard to visitors,” Warrick says.

“Venture Taranaki is also structured well and operates well, and is one of the few regional development organisations in New Zealand that can be held up as a good example. I see Taranaki as not only having fantastic features that appeal to visitors and investors, but it also has a coordinated approach among council, the private sector and Venture Taranaki that works well.”
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