Last August 19th, I wrote these words in a post titled Regional event strategy due when?!

“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.”

There’s still no sign of this strategy, as straightforward such an assignment might appear to the normal reader of BayBuzz.

Instead, the Regional Council, its Venture Hawke’s Bay unit, and the region’s tourism industry have been locked for months into a sort of death embrace and downward spiral.

On Wednesday, Regional Councillors will be asked to escape the death spiral by adopting an interim measure to trial a HBRC working relationship (via VHB’s tourism component) with the HB Wine Country Tourism organization (WCTO) through the end of June 2011 (i.e., the end of the current fiscal year). This ‘pre-nuptial’ arrangement is intended as the prelude to a marriage that would create a separate Regional Trade Organization (RTO) as a joint venture between the two entities. The cost to HBRC over the six months of 2011 is estimated at $450,000, plus $180,000 earmarked for Rugby World Cup. This funding will be augmented by $160,000 pledged by industry.

At first glance, this looks more like moving the deck chairs than enhancing actual service delivery (i.e., better marketing the Bay). If there is to be any improvement in marketing approach, it is presumed to come via new players WCTO plans to introduce to the scene … both by better utilizing the tourism industry’s local talent, and by importing some new tourism marketing expertise (notably George Hickton, former CEO of Tourism New Zealand). This is a bet on people as much as structure.

Were I in the HB tourism biz, I wouldn’t hold my breath for any immediate turn-around in the region’s tourism numbers. As the staff paper says: “The work programmes of VHB and WCTO are (to be) aligned from January.” It will take time for the rubber to meet the road. Maybe at least we’ll get the much-promised regional event strategy! But forget about big issues getting resolved, like aligning the tourism marketing of the new RTO with the marketing carried out by Hastings and Napier Councils! That won’t happen in the next six months, if ever.

The key aspect of this plan is that the region’s tourism industry, through the presumed RTO, will eventually wind up in the driver’s seat with regard to regional tourism promotion. This, however, carries the risk of becoming a ‘be careful what you wish for’ situation, in that if tourism (or visitorship) doesn’t grow explosively in Hawke’s Bay under the RTO’s watch, there will be no one for the industry to blame but itself! Or the death of Marineland. Or rapacious airfares into Hawke’s Bay. Or global recession. Or …

Keep in mind, this is an industry that struggles to bring $160,000 to the table, let alone any amount that might suffice to mount a serious marketing effort without public subsidy.

Still, with its risks, obstacles and tentative nature, this strategy seems to be the best one available.

The only alternative strategy is for the Regional Council to wash its hands of tourism promotion entirely and leave the local tourism industry to fend for itself … cold turkey. WCTO would need to get itself organized, lift its game, formulate a compelling marketing plan of its own, and plead each year — like every other interest group — for a piece of the ratepayer subsidy pie from HBRC, Hastings and Napier.

Arguably, the only reason the Regional Council should fund tourism promotion is because doing so is deemed a ‘best strategy’ for promoting the region’s economic development. But there might be some other industries in HB — horticulturalists or IT firms or ?? — who would like to make their case as representing the best economic opportunity for the region. You can see where that slippery slope leads!

Such a draconian approach would certainly shock the local tourism industry. However, there’s defibrillation … and there’s electrocution!

Tom Belford

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1 Comment

  1. Once upon a time communities were self sufficient. They worked together and they made things happen. They did not need to hire expensive consultants or go cap in hand begging for public money – They fund raised among themselves. They had lots of fun. Visitors came to participate in the fun and to meet the locals. Quality businesses were created by ordinary people who could see an opportunity, were kept within the coping strategies and financial capability of the developer and grew successfully. These successful enterprises attracted symbiotic businesses and communities grew and thrived. Communities developed their social and sporting venues that were suited to their needs and interests and were affordable for the participants. People supported each other. Sadly then the big boys moved in and created businesses on hot air and now we have all paid the price. The current business model and growth philosophy has got us in the mess and to continue this model as council and government oganisations are will continue the downhill slide. The community has no more money. We don't need consultants – what do we hire Highly educated and experienced (ahem!) officers for? We have to get our heads out of the corporate sand and look for a whole new economic model which works and is fair to all citizens. Use our local brains and local resources and become self sufficient. Put our own people first – We don't need any more events or businesses – most of us can't afford to participate in the events so have to move over for out of towners. Do what we already do but better and sort out the urgent local needs.

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