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Whangarei banks on Rugby World Cup

Published on September 23, 2011 from Laura Westbrook - stuff.co.nz

Rugby fans flood Whangarei’s bars as businesses weigh up the economic boost of the World Cup.

Whangarei has waved goodbye to its final sell-out Rugby World Cup crowd, after the city hosted its last match yesterday.

Although the Northland Regional spokesman is confident more tourists will flood to the area in the final two weeks of the World Cup, some business owners think the economic boost is now behind them.

Around 17,000 people flocked to the Northland Events centre last night for the Japan-Tonga game.

Not even a fire, which broke out near the stadium in the final 10 minutes and was quickly contained, could dampen Tongan fan's euphoria as the Pacific Nation kept its World Cup hopes alive with a 31-18 win over Japan.

Northland Regional spokesman Stewart McElwain said it was another bumper night for the town's pubs and bars.

"It was another sell-out crowd and town was as busy as last week, when Canada played Tonga."

Thousands of Japanese and Tongan fans flooded the streets and bars as the town turned red for the day.

McElwain organised the Paint It Red campaign, which aimed to boost local support for the visiting teams - Canada, Tonga and Japan - as all three nations have red in their strip colours.

He said it had been widely taken up by businesses who painted shop windows red and the economic boost of the Rugby World Cup extended beyond the hospitality industry.

"I travel around the region everyday and I see lots of visitors, many in campervans, so there's knock on spending to retailers and petrol stations.

"I believe we will see more visitors in the region than we've had these last two weeks, especially around the semis and final of the tournament when tourists head to Auckland."

Many of the town's bar-owners said they got a much needed lift from the visitors.

"There's a lot more tourists in town and even the quiet nights have picked up a lot," said Ben Hartigan, manager of McMorrissey's Irish pub.

"Hopefully the visitors will get the word out about what the place is like and people will come back and visit. We're hoping for good bit of trade after the World Cup with a good few more tourists travelling the country."

However, some businesses found the financial injection too short-lived.

"There's quite a few tourists but they're mostly rugby tourists who follow the games," said Amici restaurant owner Angie Deister.

"They're just here in groups for the game and then they'll shoot off so it's packed for a day or two.  It's great but just a bit short for us."

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