Rocket Tourism is it on the launch pad for New Zealand?
Pioneering international space company, Rocket Lab, has just opened the world’s first private orbital launch site, on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. Commercial launches are expected to begin in early 2017. They are planned to occur on a monthly basis, which will be the highest frequency of space launches in history. This is a classic New Zealand story of innovation (see www.rocketlabusa.com).
The potential for the Rocket Lab project to also launch tourism opportunities for Mahia and the wider East Coast region is the subject of a tourism scoping study, recently completed by the Giblin Group and TRC Tourism.
The Rocket Lab concept is both relatively inexpensive (about $5 million per launch) and highly effective in terms of collecting data, for example regarding climatic features, vegetation cover and Polar ice flows. The company’s Mahia Peninsula project has been embraced by the New Zealand government, and by East Coast regional and local councils.
The tourism scoping study looked at the potential that visitors will come to observe the commercial launches and learn about the project and its world-leading technology, and at the same time visit the wider East Coast region.
In the study the questions were asked: will people want to travel to Mahia to see the Rocket Lab launches. If so, what will they see, and how can the region take advantage of the wider tourism opportunity?
The study found that while Rocket Lab is already providing economic stimulus to the region, with infrastructure development and employment, the potential for regional tourism benefits is still uncertain.
Internationally, tourism that focuses around space ventures is big business in four countries; United States, French Guiana, Kazakhstan and Japan.
Thousands of people visit Cape Canaveral each year, for example, to see the big rockets, explore the Kennedy Space Centre, meet an astronaut, climb viewing platforms and learn about space discovery. These visitors of course invest hugely in local tourism goods and services.
The Mahia Rocket Lab station has significantly different characteristics. The rockets are smaller. There are exclusion zones on the private farm site, thus rocket viewing will take place from a distance of several kilometres – and launches will be of brief duration.
However, judging by last Tuesday’s official opening of the Rocket Lab site, which was attended by 244 invited guests, there is real interest in this project from many sectors of the community. (See m.nzherald.co.nz/hawkes-bay-today/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503462&objectid=11717932)
For me personally it was impressive to see the vision and meet the people behind the vision – boy are they young and impressive - and to see the complex and sense the potential for Rocket Lab to help develop the East Coast economy through an innovative business idea. The tip of Mahia Peninsula is certainly a remote place.
What next? The East Coast community, led by the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, is now looking to three planned test launches at the Mahia site, to see if visitors do indeed come to watch and to judge the tourism potential. The research will look to really understand who turns up, what they are interested in, and what needs to be provided in terms of public visitor facilities; for example car parks, viewing areas and toilets and, from the private sector, accommodation, meals and services. The concept of developing a dedicated space and visitor information centre for the Wairoa area will also be assessed. Other potential business ideas include launch observations from the sea and land based enhanced viewing sites.
My feeling is that this project presents great opportunities to provide regional economic benefits. At the same time, it is essential that provision of public facilities such as car parks, toilets and other infrastructure and services is fully researched, planned and funded. If indeed there are Rocket Tourism opportunities I am sure the private sector will want to get on board and develop these facilities.
Photo: Minister Joyce and Peter Beck at the Rocket Lab launch
Posted: Thursday 29 September 2016