OPINION: More tourism needed

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And just like that it’s March already, and what a busy time for the district.

Events throughout the Waitaki and South Canterbury have resulted in locals and tourists flocking to the area to enjoy the many different attractions we have to offer.

From mountain biking to motorcycles, long lunches in the vines and steam engines, it’s this time of the year the region shines.

Over the weekend, tired competitors crossed the finish line in Oamaru for the Alps 2 Ocean Ultra. The gruelling event, which was New Zealand’s first ultra-staged race, featured 130 runners from 15 countries covering 316km, following the off-road Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail for much of the journey.

The event was so popular it was sold out in October and race organisers are already taking bookings for next year.

I am so proud of the team of local people who saw an opportunity with the stunning Alps 2 Ocean track and took on the challenge of bringing this event to fruition.

Events like this boost the Waitaki district on the international stage and help attract more adventure-seekers to the area.

It’s this Kiwi ingenuity and entrepreneurial business sense that I hope New Zealand can maintain to continue to support and encourage our booming tourism industry.

Last year we hosted 3.7 million international visitors, a 7% increase on the previous year.

Tourism not only brings colour and life, but monumental economic benefits to the region.

However, there’s a perception Kiwis are beginning to tire of these guests, hiking prices and not being as accommodating as we should be.

I understand the frustrations of the fall-out from freedom campers, as well as the lack of infrastructure, but we need to be better than this.

For so long Kiwis have maintained such pride in our friendly nature and pure image, and now the world is recognising this – let’s not let them down.

The National-led government acknowledged the pressure tourism growth has placed on local infrastructure – particularly in popular areas like the Mackenzie and Central Otago, which have a low ratepayer base – and establishing the Tourism Infrastructure Fund to support those communities.

I’m concerned the Labour Government needs to move quickly and provide certainty on future funding for this area, and fear at the height of the tourist season it is not prioritising decisions on infrastructure funding local communities need.

As Opposition tourism spokeswoman I will continue to drive home the need to continue funding infrastructure improvements to help support and continue to develop this rapidly growing and evolving industry throughout the Waitaki and South Canterbury districts.

Jacqui Dean is the MP for Waitaki