Kiwis have used the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to flock to heritage sites like the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in unprecedented numbers.
Border restrictions helped boost domestic visitors for Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, with 219,199 people going through its staffed properties in 2020/21, up from 185,562 people in 2019/20.
Domestic visitors to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds increased more than twice its 2019/20 numbers, from 36,715 people to 84,830 in 2020/21.
“This is credited to New Zealanders’ discovery of their own cultural assets as a substitute for international travel and a general sense of needing to explore Aotearoa,” a Ministry for Culture and Heritage report said.
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But the financial loss of international visitors was not completely offset by the increase in domestic participation, the report said.
The domestic increase was driven by a parallel spike in interest in “armchair travel”, where people could engage with heritage tourism digitally, Heritage New Zealand chief executive Andrew Coleman said in a statement.
“We have seen a significant growth in readers of our digital publications, and greater interest in ‘armchair exploration’ of stories and even in short app-based walking tours around local heritage areas,” he said.
Monitoring over the final six months of 2021 showed fluctuations in engagement, which Coleman said was influenced by the intermittent lockdowns and changes in alert levels.
“We’re ready and waiting to welcome visitors back in the new reality. We have … explored new ways to virtually share stories through videos, podcasts and webinars, and continue to make many of our publications available in digital format.”
Growth in heritage tourism could also be seen in heritage festivals. There had been strong growth for Wellington Heritage Week over the past two years, festival director Alex Hockley said.
“We are definitely noticing a greater level of interest, with more engagement online and in person,” he said in a statement. “It definitely did feel like Covid had raised the odds of people looking to local events for things to do.”
Heritage was becoming more accessible and widely shared than it historically had been with social media, podcasts, augmented and virtual reality, and other storytelling avenues beyond physical books or people stumbling upon historic landmarks.
“The first step to wanting to visit a heritage site is usually knowing it exists in the first place, and resources like [those] facilitate that.”
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Being reminded that heritage sites exist could be enough to inspire people to visit them, Hockley said.
“It’s hard, and confronting, but visiting sites that have shaped our country give people a better understanding of the issues we face,” he said.
Kiwis also used the pandemic to engage with local music: more than 20 per cent was played across New Zealand radio stations in 2020/21–a peak since records began, according to NZ On Air.