Tuesday night I fronted up with several other Regional Council candidates at a meeting sponsored by HB Wine Country Tourism. The tourism sector has been rather upset with the performance of Venture Hawke’s Bay, and by extension, its supervisory parent, the HB Regional Council.
Barring death in the family, totally inexcusable was incumbent Councillor Neil Kirton’s absence from this meeting. Kirton has been chairman of the advisory board overseeing VHB, but was apparently uninterested in standing before the main constituency group of “his” organization.
Alan Dick gave apologies due to illness; but unexplained were the absences of local Councillors Ewan McGregor and Kevin Rose. My own theory is that neither of these two Councillors have anything informed to say about bolstering HB’s tourism … and better for their narrow gauge (planting trees and vanquishing possums respectively) not to be revealed to a discerning industry audience.
Here are some points I tried to make …
1. Relevant experience does count, and I, with a deep marketing background, have it. I’ve had significant corporate clients in my marketing career — The Discovery Channel, The Smithsonian (Washington DC’s principal cultural attraction), Simon Properties (biggest owner of shopping malls in US … marketing at its most “shameless”), as well as dozens of nonprofit brands like Habitat for Humanity and World Wildlife Fund … perhaps to atone for my corporate marketing.
2. If elected to the Regional Council, I would expect to serve as the “go to” Councillor on marketing matters. I would expect to know the questions to ask to keep a close check on any marketing plans initiated by the HBRC and/or the tourism agency. I would invite and welcome being held accountable for this activity in three years.
3. I support a separate HB tourism agency, driven pre-dominantly by industry leadership, but including Regional Councillor representation since the preponderance of funding for regional marketing will be provided by ratepayers for any foreseeable future.
4. Assuming the tourism industry got its act together, established priorities, and generated some of its own pooled marketing funding, I could see the case for additional HBRC funding for tourism initiatives. My own predisposition as to priorities (pending industry “education”) for any additional Council funding would include seed money for additional “signature” events, development of a more robust “friends & family” incentive program to support more visitation (and local spending) by the 40% of visitors who are now largely un-noticed, higher quality attractions for families visiting with children, and cultural tourism.
5. Time for kicking VHB is over. Unfortunately, for incumbent Councillors, that is the only “marketing strategy” they can articulate because they have no marketing background. This is further ironic in that Regional Councillors have been getting quarterly reports on VHB for at least two years … but now shirk any responsibility for its malfunctioning.
6. The “big picture” going forward involves at least these two ingredients: a) recognizing that a clean, protected environment is key to the long term viability of tourism in HB, and indeed NZ (this is the position of the Tourism Industry Assn of NZ); and b) that the quality of HB attractions, events and accommodations had to be steadily improved to meet the rising expectations of more “seasoned” and worldly international and domestic travelers.