The West Coast region has resourceful people, a rich history, a spectacular natural environment, and abundant resources. The same factors that have shaped its history and its people are what make the West Coast a challenging place to live and work.
The Tai Poutini or West Coast region covers 23,000 square kilometres, or 8.5 percent of New Zealand’s land area. It is the longest region in New Zealand, spanning more than 600 kilometres from Kahurangi Point in the north to Awarua Point in the south. It sits between the Southern Alps and Tasman Sea and is less than 70 kilometres wide at its widest point. Around 85 percent of the land is part of the conservation estate.
The geographic boundaries of the West Coast region include the Buller, Grey and Westland Local Authorities or districts. The region is New Zealand’s least populated, accounting for 0.7 percent of the population. Grey is the largest district in the region with a population of around 13,650, followed by Buller (10,350) and Westland (8,720).
The overall picture of the West Coast’s economy is one that is at the lower end of commodity cycles and in the process of structural change. The region’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employment is heavily concentrated in just a few sectors, with minerals, dairy, construction and tourism making up over 50 percent of the value of output and 40 percent of jobs.
The region has performed well over the long-term on the back of these sectors and experienced relatively high growth over 2000–2012, even post the global financial crisis. However, the reliance on a few sectors makes the economy vulnerable to economic shocks, which it has experienced over the last 3 years through the significant impact of lower international coal, gold and dairy prices. This has resulted in lower rates of GDP and employment growth, with flow through effects on the population.
Significant growth in tourism has helped to mitigate against challenging economic conditions. The region is an internationally known eco-tourism destination, with extensive areas under conservation protection which support a range of accommodation and tourism operators.
In 2015, tourism accounted for over 2,000 jobs –12 percent of the region’s jobs. The sector’s GDP grew by 2.2 percent annually over the last 5 years. Visitor expenditure grew by 3.1percent per year over the last 5 years, reaching $417 million in the year to May 2016. Over the last 2 years, visitor expenditure grew by 7.2 percent per year. Guest nights in the region grew at 8.8 percent per year, the second fastest rate of growth in the country.
The region in partnership with the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment recently launched the Tai Poutini West Coast Growth Study in September 2016. The Regional Growth Programme is supporting the region to build resilience and diversify its economy. The study explores opportunities to achieve growth in investment, incomes and employment in the region. It outlines the potential to strengthen infrastructure and diversify the economy of the West Coast region, while also identifying constraints to growth and recommending how these can be addressed.