BY RODERICK EIME IN NIUE
In December 2010, HM magazine ran a feature on the development of the tiny island nation of Niue, unknown to most members of the travelling public and in response, HM ventured to Niue to see for himself the progress of tourism development and to meet Hayden Porter, the man tasked with expanding the “Rock of Polynesia”.
With just 1500 permanent residents on the 269 sq km island, tourism on Niue is always going to be a niche product with focus on sustainability and responsible tourism practices. Currently just 6000 visitors arrive in Niue annually, attracted primarily by the superb scuba diving, fishing and whale watching. The plan is to treble that figure.
There have been several offers from international investors wishing build new hotels, but these have been rejected based on the sustainability of these projects.
“We had one offer to fund and build a 40-room hotel,” said Porter, “but without the resources to operate and maintain the property, it would quickly deteriorate and become an eyesore.”
Instead of a new build, the current premier accommodation offering, the Matavei Resort, is being redeveloped and expanded with the addition of a further 20 rooms.
“The location of the Matavei is ideal,” he said. “It’s sheltered, but with magnificent views across the bay and it overlooks one of the popular whale and dolphin sites.”
For the short to medium term, the Niue Government will relinquish their 50% stake in the Matavei and allow a private New Zealand trust to oversee the expansion and refurbishment of the 15-year-old property.
The plan, according to Porter, is to build the property into a solid profit position and then return the Niue Government stake. With traditionally high occupancy rates, that is goal is achievable.
New General Manager, Adrian Walters, has just arrived from New Zealand and will begin immediately. Walters was most recently from Copthorne Hotel New Plymouth and the Wananavu Beach Resort, Fiji, prior to that.
“It’s my plan to be here for five years,” says Walters, “then see what happens.”
As for branding, Porter says, “with just 44-rooms, it will need a sympathetic agreement with a franchisor to make it work. Alternatively the Matavei will remain independent.”
Apart from private and NZ aid, the UN have also assisted with funding small tourism projects, especially for the rebuilding required after the devastation of Cyclone Heta in January 2004. But these offers must also be examined carefully, says Porter.
“A recent one for NZD$1 million could have created a liability of $200k shortfall in running costs per annum,” he said. “These projects are hugely important and all help is appreciated but they need to be looked at in a long term and sensible manner to avoid what could turn a good deed into a disaster.”
Since going to press last December, HM can report that an accommodation booking engine has been launched with technology partner, www.seekom.com, of Wellington NZ; the first ATM is en route by ship and the plan for a mobile phone network is progressing with visiting New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully receiving the Niue phone network’s first call from Niue Premier Toke Talagi in Alofi last week (22 July).
Currently the supply by air is limited to a single Air New Zealand A320 per week, many of which are taken up by residents either visiting or returning from New Zealand. A 20 per cent capacity increase was gained over the 737 used previously and Porter hopes a second flight is not too far away.
“The possibility of flying via Tonga exists thereby allowing Australian visitors a single day’s journey. Currently Australian guests must overnight in Auckland before catching our early Friday flight and it does present a minor barrier.”
HM will monitor Niue’s progress and report on the development of the Pacific’s newest eco-tourism hotspot. In the meantime, visit www.niueisland.com