It was another rough year for tourism in New Zealand but Central Otago managed to come out top of the country’s 31 regions for growth in visitor spend in 2021, as New Zealanders explored the beauty available on their doorstep.

The region recorded 19.3% growth in total spend compared with 2020, the next closest region being Clutha at 19.1%.

Central’s growth was well ahead of the national average of 4%.

Retail spending was the most significant proportion of visitor spend in the region, at 65%.

Tourism Central Otago general manager Dylan Rushbrook said New Zealanders more than made up for the loss of international visitors to the region.

Together with the growing profile of Central Otago, that had helped communities to thrive in difficult times.

“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 benefited from teh commitment of New Zealanders to explore their own country,” he said.

“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 firefighters, school bus drivers, club volunteers and so on – the roles that are the very fabric of our communities.”

Infrastructure such as the Central Otago Touring Route and the Lake Dunstan Trail provided 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.”

Independent visitor insight research undertaken in the second half of last year showed that visitor expectations were exceeded when they visited Central Otago and that it had strong appeal for short breaks and holidays.

The research highlighted that the success of the region was in its authentic experiences, people and environment, he said.

Central Otago District Council chief executive Sanchia Jacobs said work was almost complete on a destination management framework focused on ensuring the visitor economy achieved the right balance so the residents of Central Otago were happy and continued 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,” she said.