How many tourism websites does it take to market our region? In their wisdom, our councils seem to believe it’s four!

Sorry Wairoa … you’re out of the game! OK, yes, there is a ‘Visitor Information Centre’ on the Wairoa District Council website, but it doesn’t compare with your competitors’ sites.

And there’s the key word … competitors.

You see, competing websites are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the excess of competition amongst ‘neighbors’ in Hawke’s Bay for their respective shares of the Bay’s tourism pie.

I attended a Napier City Council meeting last week, where attendees were treated to a walk-through of the spanking new Napier visitors website. It’s well-designed, has some nice features and functionality, shows off the attractions of Napier pretty well. Cool! The Councillors were pleased. Especially when told that the site had somehow been built using existing resources (I took that as code for: we didn’t pay any consultants).

One of the neatest features of the site is that any sponsor of an event can fill out an online form describing their event and potentially get it listed on the site. I say ‘potentially’ because these entries are screened by Napier’s i-Site staff. If an event sponsor is really lucky, their event might even make the featured ‘What’s On In The Bay’ and be promoted on the site’s home page.

Now I happen to be one of those Bay marketing mavens who believes strongly that quality events play a huge role in attracting visitors to Hawke’s Bay.

And indeed, exactly twelve months ago, this was the conclusion of a couple of dozen of the Bay’s non-council-employed marketing professionals and private sector tourism leaders … gathered together to brainstorm. The group called for a regional events strategy, which entailed identifying the current ‘best’ events, identifying and recommending ways to fill any gaps in quality or timing, and then putting the integrated (and perhaps augmented) promotional resources of the councils and the industry behind those signature events.

We were patted on the heads and promised the strategy.

BayBuzz has asked repeatedly over the last year about the status of this project, and always been told … “It’s nearly done.” But it hasn’t been tabled yet, derailed by the crash and burn of Venture Hawke’s Bay, which had the lead on the project.

So you might think I’d be thrilled to see a robust Events functionality on the Napier visitor site. But I’m not, because this new site has no connection to similar Events sections (and add-an-event functionality) on the regional Hawke’s Bay visitor site or the Hastings visitor site. Total duplication of effort. Even if there’s a case for multiple sites, they could all share the same calendar content and calendar features, and service a unified event strategy.

As it happened, immediately after the Napier Council presentation ended, I happened to have a meeting at Hawke’s Bay Tourism (the new ‘trial’ collaboration between the Regional Council and the region’s tourism industry). I mentioned to staff there the new whiz-bang Napier site I had just seen. Naturally, this was all news to them!

Of course, websites are no value unless someone visits them. One might ask whether Hawke’s Bay would have more visitors if we took the resources required to build four or five duplicative visitor sites, and used those resources instead to strategically promote one ‘mother’ site. This approach would recognize that more and more pre-travel research (as well as bookings) is conducted online … and there the competition for website attention is fierce.

To say nothing of promoting one events strategy.

Until then, we’ll see during this council budget season what we’ve seen in every previous one. Groups and entrepreneurs looking to launch or promote events in Hawke’s Bay, and seeking public assistance, will need to make submissions to each council, each of whom will respond as the mood of the day strikes them – which is to say, non-strategically … and usually oblivious to what other councils’ intentions might be.

Obviously there are only limited public funds to help support events and attractions of a quality that can actually drive tourist visits in an era where everyone has been everywhere and seen/done everything. The expectation bar is rising for compelling visitor experiences, and whatever public good justifies local government subsidy of tourism, that subsidy must be very wisely committed.

But websites and events are only two areas that need to be sorted out if we are to have a meaningful Hawke’s Bay tourism strategy.

Visitor information
Making wise judgments about events and attractions would presume having research on hand as to what visitors actually like about the Bay, who they are, and what messages or impressions about Hawke’s Bay they are likely to deliver when they get home. Word-of-mouth is the #1 driver of consumer choice today.

Such information is only now accumulating in Hawke’s Bay.

Hawke’s Bay Tourism (nee Venture Hawke’s Bay) has been conducting online research, gathering data from recent visitors. The research is still underway, but preliminary data indicates that visitors give highest ratings to these ‘top five’ aspects of the Bay (in descending order):

  • Beautiful landscapes and scenery
  • Great summer destination
  • Great food and wine experiences
  • A good family destination (interesting, given that only 19% say they visited with children)
  • Safe

Last three rated aspects on the list are:

  • Offers world class service
  • Is a great winter destination
  • Has a great sporting ground (in last place)

There is plenty of fodder to think about in this data. For example, couple the third-to-last place ranking of “offers world-class customer service” with the data indicating that 38% of visitors have incomes in excess of $100k (and fully 60% in excess of $80k). Then ask just these two questions for starters …

  • What stories about lousy customer service will our well-heeled (and arguably more discriminating and bigger spending) visitors tell their equally picky friends back home?
  • What in the world can local Councils, or any version of Venture Hawke’s Bay for that matter, do about crap customer service in the tourism industry? Answer: nothing!

On the other hand, ask: What can Councils do about protecting and enhancing ‘beautiful landscapes and scenery’ … apparently our #1 tourism asset?! Answer: plenty!

In a different question, visitors expressed the ‘least satisfaction’ (out of fourteen activities) with Maori cultural activities, theatre, and museums. What does this tell our councils (and Maori leaders) about the investments they should consider in such areas? Especially considering the worldwide evidence that today’s traveler (certainly the international visitor) craves unique, memorable ‘experiences’.

But improving attractions, activities, events and the customer service delivered with and through them is only a part of what needs to be better sorted and addressed in Hawke’s Bay.

With limited resources to allocate, and viewing tourism as only one driver of economic well-being in Hawke’s Bay, the paramount issue is really the funding of an integrated tourism strategy, assuming the strategy has in fact been formulated – How much? Who gets it? What is the governance mechanism that should fairly raise and allocate it? Keeping in mind that only the public benefit derived from tourism, however measured, justifies any public spend at all.

Our councils have stumbled and bumbled through these questions. Hobbled from the outset by a dilemma of their own making … they cannot agree on a regional tourism strategy, because they are too competitive with one another.

Here is one area – of huge significance to the economic well-being of the Bay – where the optimum outcomes are precluded by our fragmented governance arrangements. Alone, is this an argument for some form of amalgamation? Maybe not … but certainly one strong arrow in the quiver.

Tom Belford

P.S. Here are the pertinent websites if you want to compare …

Regional tourism website: http://www.hawkesbaynz.com/Visit/
Napier visitor site: http://www.napiercity.co.nz
Hastings visitor site: http://www.visithastings.co.nz/
CHB visitor site: http://www.chb.co.nz/
Wairoa visitor info: http://www.wairoadc.govt.nz/visitorinfo/

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3 Comments

  1. To create common sense solutions to problems requires common sense councilors who can stand back and look at the big picture scenario. The public can see these things but the councilors seem locked in their colloquial chrysali. Well put Tom.

  2. That is an extremely well thought out article , Tom !

    Regarding websites; a lot of people still seem to think that all you have to do is make something fancy and put it into cyberspace and it will magically start to attract hits!
    Wrong!

    Without using the marketing forces of Google CPC backed up by their excellent analytics data for “mining” purposes and even more powerful, utilising targeted advertising on Facebook with their half a billion members ; then your website is like an empty eggshell floating in nowhere land!

    But once again, it’s the “horse to water” scenario, isn’t it ?

  3. Tom. –
    A well written story, but there are also non-council owned websites promoting HB (and themselves).

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