Attack sparks tourist warning


With another tourist recovering from an seemingly unprovoked attack, tourism leaders are urging operators not to be afraid of warning people of the risks of travelling in New Zealand.

Irishman Robbie O’Brien, 31, was attacked by a group of men after a night out in Westport. He suffered cuts to his face and needed hospital treatment.

O’Brien said he had been staying in Westport as part of a three-week trip to New Zealand and had been drinking with locals he had met.

He was attacked by a man as he walked back to his accommodation with the group, some of whom tried to go to his aid.

He had seen his attacker earlier that night but had not spoken to him and saw no reason for the attack.

Senior Sergeant Geoff Scott, of the Westport police, said the attack appeared to be unprovoked and happened only because O’Brien spoke with an accent.

Jarrod Akapita Whata, a 20-year-old Westport timber worker, appeared in the Westport District Court yesterday charged with injuring with intent. Others are likely to face charges.

The incident comes a week after an attack on a group of English and Danish tourists in central Christchurch, also allegedly sparked by their accents.

Four men are facing charges over that attack, in which some of the tourists suffered knife wounds.

A spokeswoman for Tourism New Zealand said New Zealand was still regarded as a safe country, but visitors needed to be made aware of the risks.

“New Zealand is seen as a warm and friendly place, and certainly what has happened is in stark contrast to that reputation,” she said.

“We are always concerned about visitor safety, whether it be due to crime or safety — when tramping, for example. It is our responsibility to get the safety message out there.”

Safety messages were put out on tourism websites and leaflets given to visitors, but tourism operators could help.

“Tourism operators should think about talking to their guests about things in their area, whether that be weather or conditions on a certain track or not walking down a dark alley at night,” she said.

“We do need to strike a balance with portraying New Zealand as safe, but I don’t think operators should be worried about making people aware of the risks. I think most operators would be aware that there would be more damage done by an actual incident.”

Tourism West Coast general manager Sonya Matthews said all tourists, from overseas or other parts of New Zealand, needed to be vigilant.

She said they should not be put off touring the country.

“I don’t think we want to scare people, but they do need to take general precautions,” she said.

“New Zealand is safer than other places, but people still need to keep their wits about them.”

The number of attacks was relatively small, given the large number of tourists who came to New Zealand, she said.

Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism marketing general manager Dean Gorddard said making people aware of the risks could be a sensitive issue among tourism operators.

“At the moment these appear to be isolated incidents,” he said.

“There is a fine line between making people aware and scaring people off, but I think most operators see the value in making people aware.”

O’Brien said that despite New Zealand’s safe reputation, tourists should still be wary. “You have to keep your wits about you.”

The attack had not tarnished his view of New Zealand.

“New Zealand is a beautiful country,” he said.

“This is my first visit to New Zealand and I’ve been having a great time. What happened won’t spoil it. It was just one moron who had too much to drink, and you get those everywhere.”

Most people he had met had been friendly and others in Westport had apologised to him for what had happened.

He planned to extend his stay in New Zealand for a few more days to complete his sightseeing after the delay in Westport and in Wellington caused by the attack and his injuries.

There have been several attacks on tourists in New Zealand this year.

In January, Scottish backpacker Karen Aim was murdered as she walked back to her flat from a night out in Taupo.

In March, a 32-year-old Canadian tourist was admitted to hospital with a fractured skull near where Aim was killed.

Also in March, an English tourist was sexually assaulted near the Haruru Falls in the Bay of Islands.