In our lifetime?

I’ve been fairly restrained in commenting on the recent woes of Venture Hawke’s Bay (VHB), mostly because we so badly need this organization to work. But Thursday’s media release from our economic development and tourism agency might have pushed me over the edge … reassuring cheerleading by HB Today for Team HB in action in Shanghai notwithstanding.

The Regional Council release gushed that a consulting team has just been contracted to produce a regional events strategy for Hawke’s Bay. Sounds good, yes?


I was part of a group of “stakeholders” and “experts” assembled back in February by HB Wine Country Tourism to generate ideas and a plan of action for invigorating the Bay’s tourism performance.

As I recall, the top recommendation of this group was to put together a regional events strategy. And even then, we were reassured by VHB that this was already a priority in their shop … indeed groundwork was already underway.

I would have expected the grand unveiling of this strategy to have occurred by now.

But instead, today’s non-news release simply announces that the consultants have finally been hired … an “extensive consultation process” will begin August 25th … and the strategy will be completed by the end of September.

Incredible! What’s been going on? Given the track record at this point, the only reason this strategy might be tabled in our lifetime is because VHB will run out of consulting money. What happened in the six months since February?

Are we now to believe that it will take only one month (including “extensive consultation”) to put together the grand strategy upon which so many high and hopeful expectations are resting? Says VHB’s Michael Wan: “The outcome will be a robust strategy that we hope will have regional buy-in and appeal, particularly for those making planning or investment decisions around events.”

It had better be one helluva strategy!

Tom Belford

P.S. And you wonder why I’m standing for Regional Council?! See my ten-point plan for better marketing the Bay on my new campaign website …

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  1. what on Earth did we do before consultants, eh? oh, that's right… used our own brains and experience, taking half the time and a quarter the money and generally coming up with something at least as good or better, because we knew the ground already and didn't need to "study" (and often misread) it.

    which, reading between the lines, is doubtless what VHB et al have been doing since February … but because you can't jump without hiring a consultant, staff now need to roll them in to verify what they already know so the pollies can feel comfortable signing it off.

    and people wonder why local government creeps at such a painful pace…..

  2. VHB is a dysfunctional haven for those who employ the 90's psychobabble of "marketing experts" but in reality have no idea how to actually put together a realistic and functional plan of action!

    If they did, it would already be happening as they have had plenty of time to institute such a plan..haven't they?

    This statement from Michael Wan illustrates this:

    “The outcome will be a robust strategy that we hope will have regional buy-in and appeal, particularly for those making planning or investment decisions around events.”

    What that actually means is "we have our fingers crossed that some other dysfunctional organisation will seize the opportunity for more wasted communications, committee meetings and no actual outcomes….but, boy, will we be able to justify our miserable existence for a bit longer!" ( and get paid)

    It's very like the past Labour govt. which encouraged departments within departments, who spent most of their time mumbling words like " stakeholders" and " regional events strategies" etc to the point that even they didn't know who was in charge anymore.

    NZ is now awash with competent people keen to work or improve things due to the recent global shakeout so I say action should be taken to disband VHB and start anew.

    As ole Alan Duff used to say when he was giving the bro's a hard time " less huis and more do-eys" .

    Hawkes Bay deserves better than it's getting and that includes the local regional newspaper!

  3. In cases like VHB the term "PR" is an oxymoron, as they clearly have no clue as to how to relate to their own public. The "consultants" (there's another one as Bruse pointed out) they misguidedly pay gazillions of OUR dollars to however…

    Perhaps "PA" (as in "Public Address") is a better term. You know, the out of date loudspeaker system at train stations and school fairs that blare indescernable babel either too late to be of use, or of no consequence.

  4. Tom you know what, I agree with your ten point plan for marketing Hawke's more effectively, it is pretty much spot on. Well actually I would add another point in, but an 11 point plan probably isn't quite as catchy from a campaign perspective.

    But then again I would imagine that this is probably similar to what VHB already has in place (could be wrong here), after all building a strategic framework or a list on ten commandments is the easy part.

    Where most RTO's fall down is implementing specific and measurable tactics which support and deliver upon the strategy. This is the really hard bit.

    I am particularly glad to see your emphasis on online marketing, as this is an area with huge potential and unlike many other forms of marketing it is directly and immediately measurable. This is certainly the direction that Tourism New Zealand is now moving and their new Chief Executive definitely has the industry experience to support it.

    Back to the eleventh point I mentioned earlier. I would add building a strong regional brand to the mix. While many would say that "Hawke's Bay Wine Country" fulfils this brief my contention that this is not supported by visitor research or visitation statistics. Hawke's Bay (in my humble opinion) is the greatest region in New Zealand, we need a strong and simple brand which speaks to visitors and at the same time engenders regional pride.

  5. I must also say to the people who continually lambaste consultants, that the core purpose of consultants is to ensure that due diligence is performed before we make a major investment.It's analogous to getting a building inspection before you buy a house.

    Now I agree that they can be and often are overused, however the judicious use of consultants can and should save money, time and resources.

    Those people who insist that we should just "get on with it" are probably the same people who would criticise if we made a poor investment. You can't have it both ways and consultants aren't necessarily evil incarnate.

    P.S. I'm not a consultant, so this isn't simply a case of me defending the brotherhood

  6. Paul this organisation and it's predecessors never has any money to do anything as they spend all there money on consultants. They are like possums in the headlights. In 2000 we launched the wine country tourism association, I was the co-ordinator of the group and brand manager. I chaired the organisation after Graeme Avery. We had a regional events strategy, we were not paid for what we did. I gave five years of my heart, soul and time to this. I find it insulting that since Hawkes Bay Inc and it's successors have been set up nothing has changed. Events are driven by individuals and groups. They are happening despite a consultant or ten being paid by organizations trying to justify their existence. All that is needed is can do people and to identify any gaps in the years calendar. The skill base is out there in the community and they are people who have put there own money on the line. It just needs co-ordination not another consultant.

  7. I watched Michael Wan from VHB and some professor or something from AUT on Stratos TV the other night.( and it can still be viewed on TVHB archives)

    The whole programme was dedicated to discussing the joys of a new online survey that VHB and AUT had come up with for overseas and local visitors to fill in after their visit to the Bay..and this was VHB's major next innovation to save the Bay.

    Oh yes.. these two fools were reeeeally excited about the survey…and, wait for it… they were offering a prize of an MP3 player to anyone filling in the survey.

    Unbelievable that this was the best that they could come up with for the future of tourism in HB…unbelievable !!

    Getting people to fill in surveys at the best of times is a struggle let alone a passing tourist……and what were they going to do about any information they gathered?

    Probably form a think tank, maybe?

    Rebecca Turner (above) and others like her were right onto things when Avery and co. hit the Bay a few years back..they set it up and put the time in and now all that traction and momentum has ground down to the point where the fate of the wonderful region is in the hands of inept," underpants- folding" incompetents.

    But what can be done? To quote Rebecca :

    "All that is needed is "can do" people and to identify any gaps in the years calendar. The skill base is out there in the community and they are people who have put there own money on the line. It just needs co-ordination not another consultant."


  8. Hi Rebecca, I don't disagree with you, nor was I defending Venture HB.

    I agree totally that can-do people are a vital component in successful events programmes and they always will be (as running events just isn't the role of an RTO), however can-do people alone isn't enough. We need a collaborative region wide framework to guide where resources should be invested, otherwise the can-do people have no support and end up being disenfranchised and disillusioned.

    Hawke's Bay has some sensational events (run by passionate and dedicated people), but when compared to other regions these events just don't garner the same level of success because there is not a robust support strategy that sits behind it. This certainly isn't the fault of the people running the events, my view is they should be commended for their work.

    My point was merely that the issue didn't sit with consultants, as there are many good consultants who can add significant value to a region's event or visitor strategy. The issue here is how an organisation utilizes it's resources and ultimately that should be determined by those charged with the governance of the organisation.

    Rob: I didn't see the Stratos programme so can't really comment on it. I'd agree that an online survey in itself is hardly an innovation.

    However I believe the survey in question is being undertaken by the New Zealand Tourism Research Institute (NZTRI) who are part of AUT.

    Surely it is a good thing that VHB is trying to ascertain who visits the bay, why and what they think when here and the fact the NZTRI (who are a not-f0r-profit, rather than costly consultants) are undertaking this work with robust methodology and have the in-house ability to be able to analyse and interpret the data against findings elsewhere in NZ.

    Sound research is vital to developing a strong value proposition for the region (hence why it is quite rightly number one on Tom Belford's ten point marketing plan). An example is the very good research done recently by the Ministry of Tourism called “Domestic Tourism is Big" you can read about it here:

  9. Paul: i agree there are good consultants who can add value and derive workable solutions. unfortunately there are also many bad consultants who remove value and produce unworkable "solutions". the problem with local government is it (generally) can't distinguish one from the other – so using a consultant to legitimise a decision is like flipping a coin on outcome.

    my point was that once upon a time – before they fired most of them and started using out-of-town consultants (for "perspective") instead – was that we used to have a wealth of corporate knowledge which, in liaison with down to earth politicians (remember them?) could sort out and solve most conundrums in-house. no longer.

    a personal illustrative example: on Waiheke, we wanted to build a bus shelter into a clay bank with regenerating native bush planted by the adjacent landowner. he was adamant it wouldn't happen, and would create some sort of hazard if it did, and being en ex-engineer had all sorts of arguments in support – and two lots of consultants failed to come up with anything to persuade otherwise. enter one sympathetic politician (moi) and after an hour over a cup of tea, feathers were soothed, agreement was reached, and the shelter built. that's the difference between hands-on and jerk off.

  10. Paul Evans above.

    What you're talking about is commonly known as " paralysis by analysis".

    By the time your inept wonks analyse the very basic info.from their surveys etc, the Bay has languished for a further year or so.

    You're either part of the problem or part of the solution.

    You seem to be advocating for the former ?

  11. Rob, how can you formulate a solution if you actually haven't defined what the problem is?

    We know that Hawke's Bay visitation numbers have been dropping. Can you tell me with any form of certainty why that is? And if you can't tell me why that is, then how on earth can you determine an appropriate solution.

    Undertaking research doesn't mean paralysis by analysis at all, hence why we now use online surveys. They can give us almost instantaneous results, the same goes for focus groups where we can garner the general mood almost instantly.

    Worldwide all of the most successful companies use sound research to develop their value proposition and the products that flow from this.

    I currently run a major tourism business, and through the recession we have grown our visitation numbers by 22% and increased our yield per visitor by over 5%…going in the face of all industry trends. The way we achieved this was through undertaking research to determine:

    1) Who our current customers really were (versus perception, and the difference was quite marked)

    2) Why they chose us

    3) Importantly who wasn't coming to us

    4) Why weren't they coming

    We used this research to redefine our brand, the value proposition for the organisation and the products which flowed from that (so yes you can swiftly take action based on research). And guess what, some total it cost us $5,000, pretty sound investment on a $5M a year business.

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