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West Coast Visitor Approach Should Be Smarter — DOC Boss

West Coasters "love their environment" but the region can be smarter in attracting tourists for longer stays by utilising the outstanding natural environment, the retiring DOC boss for the region says.

Mark Davies is about to step back after nine years as the Western South Island operations director for DOC.

At the end of a 45-year conservation career, Mr Davies said it has been a "huge privilege" to be chief steward for the DOC region.

The department has a significant profile in the sparsely populated region, with over 200 staff and stewardship over 84% of the entire land area, which includes five national parks and internationally-recognised landscapes and eco-systems.

Mr Davies said the DOC estate contributes 45% of the region's GDP due to its central role in the visitor economy - something he has been focused on.

He said it was something to be proud of, but the region needed to be much smarter around the visitor economy -- and it was not necessarily about attracting more visitors.

"We need them to say longer. They are still only staying here one to two bed nights and we need to spread them out," Mr Davies said.

Currently the region receives 1.5 million visitors in the summer season from October.

Upping the visitor stay by just one more night would immediately accelerate the economy but a return to the deluge of pre-Covid visitor numbers to the region was not the answer, he said.

"We need them to spread them out."

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He said the ongoing strategic development across the region of key visitor sites to pull in visitors longer than the current one and a half day average stay is now crucial.

Mr Davies said the collaborative development of with local iwi and local government of the Pounamu Pathway from Westport to Haast -- costing nearly $50m to date -- was a fine example of the collaboration and direction to better evolve the region's strategic approach to visitors.

He said the department had put a stake in the ground as a key partner because it knew how important its role is in contributing to the region's economy.

"Oparara, Dolomite Point, Hokitika Gorge are all about slowing the visitor down from one to two bed nights to three.

"You start making money on night two -- it's straight out arithmetic.

"We need for the community to survive. We don't need more visitors, we need the current number to stay longer."

Mr Davies said the high impact of big visitor numbers were almost "unsustainable" for DOC at the time Covid shut the West Coast visitor economy down in early 2020.

"Pre-covid the car parks were full. The people were spewing out. Only four years ago we were having some places that were over tourism. We knew as we went into Covid this was the opportunity to reset.

"The next big challenge is not to fall into the same trap."Westland District receives the majority of the region's 1.5m visitors who come for the natural wonder of the DOC estate.

The challenge for Westland's 3500 ratepayers in provide supporting infrastructure was nationally recognised. It had resulted in external investment such as the Tourist Infrastructure Fund and Jobs for Nature to assist the region's local communities, Mr Davies said.

"The Government has realised that -- how do 3500 ratepayers host 1.5m visitors? They can't.

"The West Coast is a key component of destination New Zealand … and DOC and the country understand that, and have invested wisely."

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