Each year more than 650,000 tourists flood the town, seeking adventure, history an, of course, shopping. The historic mining town has attractions aplenty, but one of the biggest and most popular is the main street.Buckingham St is lined with buildings in fitting with the era of its boom – when gold mining was king of the Central Otago landscape.
Today the Arrow River is mostly rid of its gold, but Arrowtown’s retail scene continues to grow. It has one of the most rare sights on a small-town New Zealand main street: no empty shops.
Arrowtown Promotion and Business Association (APBA) project co-ordinator Sue Patterson said the town was unique.
“We have a very small population but a very large tourism appeal and the expanse of shopping in Arrowtown is special,” she said.
“It’s like you’re entering different world where the shopping experience is really relaxed.”
A recent survey done by the association showed that 30 percent of visitors are from New Zealand, with 50 percent travelling from Auckland. These numbers are down from 50 percent of all visitors coming from New Zealand three years ago, but the overall numbers continue the climb. The biggest numbers of tourists come from Asia. The tourism trade is growing and the town is getting more and more first-time visitors each year.
Another unique quality about Arrowtown is that it also gets a high number of repeat customers. The demographic of holidaymakers, and the proximity of nearby luxury golf resort Millbrook, make Arrowtown the perfect place for upmarket shopping.
Tourists travelling from further afield expect New Zealand-made products, specifically Arrowtown-centric products. Wool, gold and pounamu are the big sellers in the town. In recent times, boutique stores selling high-end homewares and clothing have also become a fixture of the main street.
Remarkables Sweet Shop marketing co-orindater Josh Villasfor said there had been a major increase in the Asian market.
“We have a lot more tourists coming from China all times throughout the year,” he said.
“They come in waves but are not season-specific, that keeps us afloat during the non-busy periods.”
Arrowtown natives Lisa and David Palmer opened the Remarkables Sweet Shop in 2004. It has since expanded to shops in Queenstown and Queenstown Airport. To cater to a changing market the sweet shop has incorporated new flavours into its specialty fudge menu.
"Tourists come to us looking for locally made, handcrafted products. We’ve tried to cater to the Asian demographic by introducing flavours more to their liking.”
Kiwifruit nougat, nut and fruit nougat and pomegranate and cranberry nougat have been developed for tourists without such a sweet palette. Weathering the relatively quiet off-seasons is the biggest challenge for business-owners in Arrowtown. Booms in summer and winter drop off significantly in spring and autumn and businesses have to find new ways to sustain themselves.
For Patterson and the APBA that means developing an interest in the “shoulder seasons”. To help bring in numbers during the usually off-peak months, two new festivals have been added to the town’s calendar. The Arrowtown Arts Festival ran for the first time in September last year and the intention is to grow it.
There is also an Autumn Festival in May.
“Usually May is part of the quiet season in Arrowtown, but most of May was really busy this year.”
For some businesses, the quiet months are a chance to regroup after the constant assault of the crazy summer and winter months. Arrowtown’s café and restaurant scene has grown to match the appeal of retail in the town. There are about 20 eateries ranging from a pie shop to fine dining. The APBA doesn’t want the town to change too much.
“We want to maintain history, beauty and its natural environment because if we spoilt that we’d run the appeal of the town.”
APBA has conducted its own research on how to keep essence of Arrowtown in a growing tourism market. Its strategy is also in line with Queenstown and national tourism strategies. Arrowtown is a 20 minute drive from Queenstown Airport.