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Visitor numbers bounce back in Franz Josef

The Department of Conservation’s latest track counter data for the Franz Josef Glacier Valley recorded its busiest day ever with 7,137 visiting on 1 January 2020.

2019 saw significant disruptions to visitor flows to the Glacier Country with the Waiho Bridge washout in March and the closure of SH6 between Harihari and Whataroa from 7 December to 20 December.

Development West Coast’s (DWC) regional tourism manager Jim Little says the overall drop in visitor numbers to the Glacier Country for the year-to-date comes as no surprise given these recent disruptions.

“What has impressed us is how quickly visitors have begun to pour back in.”

DOC says overall numbers for the year-to-date (June – July) were down from 320,605 in 2018/19 to 234,054 in 2019/20 due to the impact of recent road closures from extreme weather events.

The busiest single day in December 2019 saw 6,396 visitors to the Franz Josef Glacier Valley – compared to 6,006 on the busiest day in December 2018.

“It’s no surprise visitors are flocking back,” says Mr Little. “With the most accessible rivers of ice in the world, set within the West Coast’s untamed natural wilderness, the Glacier Country is rightfully at the top of the list of places to visit in New Zealand.”

Glacier Country Tourism Group chairman Ashley Cassin is pleased to see visitor numbers bounce back.

“With the arrival of 2020 we can park the challenges of 2019 in the memory banks, a transition made easier by an exceptionally strong pattern of visitation in the two-week period between Christmas and early January.

“The recent event and the many that have come before it shows the mentality and resilience of our region. When we get thrown lemons we make lemonade and move forward collectively through the challenges in the pursuit of better outcomes for all.

“I know I have done this a lot to date, but we need to give another hat tilt to those roading contractors and agencies that made this possible. Here is hoping they have a quieter year in 2020,” says Mr Cassin.

Mr Little says DWC has been in constant communication with inbound tour operators, TNZ, TIA, TECNZ and NZ Transport Agency during the recent road closures and are working closely with Glacier Country tourism operators on short and long-term solutions around weather impacts to the region.

Now that motorists can travel again from Karamea to Queenstown, the Government is contributing $280,000 towards a DWC marketing campaign to showcase the must do activities throughout the West Coast. Filming for the campaign is currently underway with footage and images being shot across the region.

A $3.9 million investment from the International Visitor Levy is also enabling DOC to upgrade the visitor experience in Fox Glacier. Among the work funded, an upgraded walk to Lake Gault is adding to the already world-famous Lake Matheson Walkway.

DOC South Westland operations manager Wayne Costello says the Fox Glacier township is also becoming increasingly pedestrian friendly with a cycleway being built between the town and Lake Matheson, enhancing the experience for people who enjoy active holidays.

“There is lots to do, and an ever-growing list of reasons to visit the Glacier Country,” Mr Costello says.


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