Rotorua’s Mary Tolley knows how important the backpacker market is to Rotorua and New Zealand, and now it will be part of her responsibility to help others realise it.
Ms Tolley has been appointed the first female chairperson of the Backpacker Youth and Adventure Tourism Association, making her a key “‘voice” in the important sector.
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She said she was “definitely up for the challenge”, bringing a broad tourism background which included her current role at Te Puia as market manager – UK, Europe, Australia, FIT and backpacker.
The new leadership role was a “natural progression” for Ms Tolley, who has spent two years on the association’s board, including holding the role as vice chairperson.
“[The association] has been the independent voice of the backpacking and adventure travel industry since 2003,” she said.
Key targets for Ms Tolley included increasing membership in the association as well as increasing the communication and networking opportunities for members.
“Backpackers account for over 159,000 visitors to New Zealand a year, driving 22 per cent of holiday stay days with an average length of stay over 31 days,” she said,
“Some people look at it and think it is a budget segment but these people stay longer and do more and ultimately spend well, which means they are absolutely critical for us.
“It is challenging but diverse sector with a lot of opportunity for growth.”
Ms Tolley has done a lot of backpacking herself, which she believed helped.
“I can put myself in their shoes. It certainly isn’t a foreign concept to me.”
The new position will also have positive spinoffs for both Te Puia and tourism locally, putting Ms Tolley at the front of research, ideas and opportunities within the sector.
Te Puia general manager sales and marketing, Kiri Atkinson-Crean, said Ms Tolley’s appointment was a huge credit both to Ms Tolley and her standing in the industry, and to Rotorua and its commitment to the backpacker market.
“It’s exciting for Mary to be appointed as the chair of this organisation, and especially as the first woman chair – it will have great spin-offs for Rotorua as well.”