Beggars “physically accosted” 10 Australian tourists at a café last week, claims a Rotorua councillor, arguing it is time to “seriously consider” a begging ban.

One tourism operator said this would have been an “isolated incident” and most tourists did not see the issue, but a hospitality leader said he would support a begging bylaw.

Rotorua Lakes Council staff said there was anecdotal evidence begging was down and work was ongoing to improve community safety. Police and the district’s tourism promoter said the cafe incident was not reported to them.

Begging has been an ongoing issue for the city, with reports in the last year including beggars punching a McDonalds manager, lashing out at a motorist, being fined in court, operating in syndicates and making up to $400 a day in Rotorua.

The issue was raised at a Community and District Development Committee meeting on Wednesday.

A council report said its patrol vehicle was moving beggars on from intersections, and those who returned were dealt with by police who had the authority to trespass.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests begging activity has reduced.”

Councillor Don Paterson disagreed. He said he was told of an incident two days prior to the meeting while presenting on the council’s draft Long-Term Plan to a local Rotary Club.

“Ten Australian tourists arrived on their e-bikes at a café to have breakfast, it had been their first night in Rotorua… they got physically accosted by three guys, intimidating them, asking for money.”

He said he attended another consultation event, this time with high school children. “They were talking about ram raids, they were talking about beggars… if that’s permeating into their lives then we have a problem.”

Noting the council’s own survey that found 85% of respondents wanted it to focus on community safety, he asked if it was time to “seriously consider” a begging ban.

The idea was floated last year as the council developed its community safety plan.

Community and district development group manager Jean-Paul Gaston told Paterson he previously advised councillors it would be “very difficult to ban any form of begging”.

It instead worked with police on safety, particularly around roads and busy intersections, outside businesses with “long-running challenges” and intimidating or antisocial behaviour.

One such business was McDonalds. Rotorua franchise owner Rob Parry previously told Local Democracy Reporting he would support a bylaw.

Gaston said exploring a bylaw would take 6-12 months and noted their effectiveness in other places was questioned.

“This is not something that can be instantly resolved.”

Council chief executive Andrew Moraes said the council would still explore avenues “to make Rotorua safe for everyone”.

Committee chairwoman Sandra Kai Fong said the Community Safety Hub on Hinemoa St housed police, Safe City Guardians and Māori Wardens and can go to an issue “straight away”.

Local Democracy Reporting has sought more information from Paterson about the tourist incident he raised in the meeting and has requested to contact his source, who he said was overseas.

LDR also contacted other members of the Rotorua hospitality community, police and tourism promotion agency RotoruaNZ but none knew about it.

Police said to find out the number of intersection beggars charged under the Land Transport Act in Rotorua would require an Official Information Act request.

Rotorua NZ said it had not received any details from operators about the impacts of begging on tourism.

Hospitality New Zealand Bay of Plenty president and owner of Hennessy’s Irish Bar, Reg Hennessy, said he had not seen tourists have problems with beggars.

“We police our place tough, so they stay away.”

Hennessy said he would, however, support a bylaw. “There’s still quite a few [beggars] around which is disappointing.”

“People getting confronted by them isn’t right for locals, and not advantageous for having tourists in town.”

Rotorua hot pool attraction Secret Spot co-founder Keith Kolver told Local Democracy Reporting he believed the cafe incident would be an “isolated” event.

After four years in business, this Easter weekend was one of the busiest periods the business had seen, and Kolver was expecting another busy few weeks during school holidays.

Kolver said most tourists were not exposed to beggars and only experienced good things in Rotorua.

These were the things the industry was promoting, he said, and it was “hugely important” it showed the manaakitanga [hospitality] of the city as well as its offerings.

Rotorua’s reputation rebuild

At Wednesday’s meeting, Paterson also commented on RotoruaNZ’s draft statement of intent 2024-2025, in particular its three-year plan to “strengthen Rotorua’s reputation and rebuild brand equity”.

“We haven’t fixed the issues that are plaguing our city and yet here we are going to be shouting from the rooftop saying, ‘we’ve fixed it’, when we haven’t.”

Kai Fong said it was addressing issues and it was about promoting Rotorua for the good it offered.

She referred to its Community Safety Hub and the work police were doing at intersections.

Gaston said Paterson’s point was “well-founded” in that reputational risks needed to be monitored, but the success of the summer season needed to be considered too.

Feedback about Rotorua as a destination from tourists had been “extremely positive”, he said.

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.

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