Saturday, December 13, 2014

Timaru Editorial: Are we overlooking penguin opportunity?

Last updated 12/12/2014
OPINION: I'm swimming against the tide here, but I'd be interested to know what you think.
On Monday we had a story that the number of penguins nesting around the Timaru coastline had almost doubled in the last year, from 53 to 90.

Also included were comments from a German couple for whom watching the penguins come ashore on Caroline Bay was the highlight of their year-long New Zealand trip.

They'd found out about the penguins by chance from other tourists in Queenstown, but then had trouble finding any promotional material on them.

The volunteer group that watches over the penguins though did not see this as a problem, its main aim being to protect the birds. It had put out some fliers around town and was looking at promotion in local motels, but not out of town.

Okay, fair enough. This isn't really the job of a volunteer group which was formed out of concern for the penguins' welfare.

So what does the mayor think? What does the council's tourism arm think?

Damon Odey and Aoraki Development Business and Tourism's (ADBT) tourism manager Katerina Tiscenko are all for protecting and monitoring the penguins, but not using them as a tourist attraction.
Also supporting this stand, they say, is the Department of Conservation, an eco-tourism operator and an environmentalist.

But, and this is where the swimming against the tide comes in, surely this is an opportunity for Timaru. We're a lovely seaside town, but don't have many points of difference to attract tourists. The wider region does, but Timaru doesn't.

There's the Caroline Bay Carnival and the Te Ana Maori Rock Art Centre, but there's not a lot else we've got for tourists that other rural New Zealand towns don't have.

Oamaru has made the most of its penguins. It has built viewing grandstands and a visitors' centre with shop. There are tours, a booking website, an adopt-a-penguin programme. The facility attracts 100,000 people a year at $5 a child and $10 an adult. That's good money.

We are now exactly where Oamaru was 21 years ago.

For sure, the welfare of the penguins is paramount, but the more people looking at them, the more a business is built around them, the safer they could be.

Penguins used to regularly get run over in Oamaru before the viewing areas were installed.
And there is a market out there, as the German couple showed.

But this is just what I think, and I'm no expert. Is this even worth talking about? Drop me a line, let me know.


No comments: