9 May 2017

Racecourses to host campervans of Lions fans

5:43 am on 9 May 2017

Two Auckland race courses will be hosting hundreds of campervans full of Lions rugby fans for the first time to help the city cope as it gears up for the country's biggest sporting event since the Rugby World Cup in 2011.

Wales captain Sam Warburton.

Sam Warburton will captain the Lions for the second time. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

About 20,000 international visitors will plough tens of millions of dollars into the New Zealand economy when they arrive for the 12th British and Irish Lions tour next month.

Ten matches will be held between 3 June and 8 July.

The government and local councils are spending millions to help the seven host cities from Whangarei to Dunedin show off their finest features.

Lions fan Rob Cridland said his trip to New Zealand had special meaning.

"The last time I was in New Zealand was in my year off, 31 years ago. I worked in New Zealand in my gap year before I went to university, so there's a bit of catching up to do," he said.

This time he was bringing his son Alex on his own gap year and hoped to reunite with the Canterbury family he worked for planting trees.

"We're there for 20 nights, we've hired a campervan and we have three test tickets," he said.

NZ Rugby said it was on track to sell 355,000 tickets but had no figures on what the tour would be worth.

Independent consultant Covec said the 2005 tour, which attracted the same numbers, was worth $135 million, including $123m from international visitors.

And Rotorua Top 10 Holiday park owner, Jared Adams, said business would more than triple in the normally quiet month of June.

"We've just come out of one of the busiest seasons that we've ever had.

"We were going to shut the park down for renovations but we've held off on that till just after the Lions tour to make sure we can can cater for them all," Mr Adams said.

Not just here for the rugby

New Zealand Winegrowers head of global marketing Chris Yorke said the visitors come from a market worth $400m in exports.

"They're going to be spending a lot of money on restaurants and hotels and we know that one in four of all tourists who come to New Zealand visit a winery so we want to make sure that we get more than that for this tour. It is very important," he said.

In Auckland, the two sold-out tests and a third match against the Blues, attracting a total of 34,000 international and local visitors, was expected to boost the economy by $26.7m.

After reports of bed prices soaring amid an accommodation crisis, both Alexandra Park and Ellerslie racecourse would be open for campervans for the first time.

Steve Armitage, who heads visitor and external relations for Auckland's tourism and economic development agency, said he was confident everyone would have a bed and that the city's roads and public transport would cope.

"We are far better now than we have been at any other point around transporting people across the city."

Visitors are expected to pump several million dollars into the smaller host cities, and about $20m into Wellington where accommodation is heavily booked as far away as Palmerston North.

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