Rural tourism development in the eastern Hokianga area
Rural Tourism is increasingly being used as a development strategy to improve the social and economic well being of rural areas. Rural Tourism encompasses a huge range of activities, natural or manmade attractions, amenities and facilities, transportation, marketing and information systems (Sharpley & Sharpley, 1997). Rural tourism is very diverse and fragmented in terms of operational structures, activities, markets and operating environments (Roberts & Hall, 2001, citing Pearce, 1989). Benefits of rural tourism have been expressed as employment growth and broadening a region’s economic base, repopulation, social improvement, and revitalization of local craft (Sharpley, 2000). Governments can play active roles in tourism. In short the literature suggests rural tourism development policy approaches require: regeneration/revitalization, horizontal and vertical integration, interdependence, stewardship/sustainability, mediation, cataclysm, service and welfare provisions, spatiality – awareness, intra and inter regional complementariness, opportunism, realism and quality (Roberts & Hall, 2001). Murphy (1985) proposed a community approach to tourism development which included formation of businesses networks, and the sharing of resources and information. For rural tourism to be successful, collaboration needs to exist amongst entrepreneurs (Wilson et al., 2001). Useful integrated approaches to rural studies include acknowledging the importance of locally controlled agendas to reach centralization, awareness of the benefits for shared ideas and funding developments, and creating appropriate tourism plans for rural areas (MacDonald & Jolliffe, 2003). There are numerous challenges when attempting rural tourism development: the total product package must be sufficient; significant investment may be required; there is the adaption to a service role; the quality of products and services and the availability of skills and resources for effective marketing (Sharpley, 2000). Tourism development requires attractions, promotion, infrastructure and services and hospitality (Wilson et al., 2001, citing Gunn, 1988). The remote Eastern Hokianga area is situated in the Far North (Northland) region of New Zealand. The area has a low population and is sparsely populated presenting an ideal place to relax with an unhurried atmosphere, flourishing fauna and flora, rich in New Zealand history and culture. This is an economically depressed area that is situated in the centre of Northland’s three key tourism icons - The Bay of Islands, the Waipoua Forest, and the top of the North Island. The location of the Eastern Hokianga presents an opportunity to create a tourism destination that will attract travellers frequenting the key tourism icons. To date there has been no research on rural tourism development conducted in the Eastern Hokianga. Although comprehensive research was conducted previously in the Hokianga by the James Henare Maori Research Centre (1999) it was concentrated specifically to the “Maori culture”. This research aims to examine and identify the key challenges of rural tourism development for the Eastern Hokianga through an analysis of rural tourism development approaches, and identifying the social and economic impacts of tourism. Key findings show that the Eastern Hokianga is an undeveloped area and does not fit with the majority of the rural tourism definitions as described in the literature. The area is displaying positive impacts of rural tourism development. The negative impacts are minimal as the Eastern Hokianga is still in the initial development stage of rural tourism. There are many integrated approaches to rural tourism development currently. A strategic approach is occurring with a tourism policy and community involvement in decision making. There is an integration approach with one RTO actively involved in the communities’ tourism association with the local businesses. Two key clustering approaches are being utilized – the Twin Coast Discovery Route and total product packaging. Regeneration is not occurring but was not an issue raised by the community, whereas a financing approach was an identified challenge by Eastern Hokianga businesses. The need to improve accessibility through infrastructure was the second key challenge to rural tourism development. The area was not restricted by the other challenges of government’s role, education / experience and marketing.