Horse of the Year

To curb its rates burden, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council has proposed the staged defunding of Hawke’s Bay Tourism, dropping from $1,520,000 to $520,000 next fiscal year (commencing 1 July 2024), then to $260,000 in 25-26, then to nil.

If implemented, HB Tourism’s chair George Hickton asserts HB visitor economy will “threatened with extinction”.

Hyperbole, to put it politely. We gave Mr Hickton his shot on BayBuzz here, if you missed it.

Here are some rather significant drivers of visitation to Hawke’s Bay …

Friends & Family – these folks will never stop coming, so long as we love them back! And probably the biggest chunk. They don’t need social media ads from HB Tourism to entice them. OK, maybe Uncle Dave does.

Event goers – a huge driver of visits. From Horse of the Year to major sports competitions to Mission concerts and Tom Jones. All directly promoted by their commercial and venue sponsors, and some already subsidised by our territorial councils.

Business travelers – routine travel to see their HB suppliers, clients and customers. Our councils pay millions to their Auckland lawyers alone to come down and smooth their problems. Then there are all those infrastructure consultants. If business is thriving in HB, business travel will thrive.

None of these visitor streams will shut down if HB Tourism’s funding is cut. Planes will still land and cruise ships arrive, climate emissions reduction targets notwithstanding.

And let’s be clear, this direction of travel has been signaled by HBRC for years. When the issue first arose in 2018 (when I was a regional councillor), then-Chair Rex Graham characterised the situation to the media:  “The ratepayer in Hawke’s Bay has funded them to quite a heavy extent, and it’s time for them to stand on their own feet.” He commented further: “There’s a feeling that tourism’s not in our core competencies. We need to do some very serious stuff to correct the damage that has been done to the environment.”

HB Tourism has had six years to take this message on board. And yet still today, despite being an estimated $1.3 billion contributor to the region’s economy, the sector can serve up only 248 members paying $311,000 to HB Tourism, plus about $111,000 in contra. It’s much easier to flick a submission to HBRC.

More from then-Chair Rex on HBRC’s sentiment: “They are the biggest industry in Hawke’s Bay, and are they telling us they can’t fund a small part of their own promotional programme? … “This is a business. They should stand on their own feet.”

In that spirit, six years ago HBRC directed HB Tourism to develop other funding mechanisms in return for continued council support. Nothing has come of that.

As industry observer, Deborah DeNard recently commented on BayBuzz’s website: “Now, George’s dire prediction about Hawke’s Bay Tourism closing up shop—that’s quite the doomsday scenario! But hang on, George, could it be that this situation reveals a lack of foresight in HBT’s planning? Have they always relied on the Regional Council’s handouts without a backup plan?”

She concludes: “But hey, maybe this is our chance to shake things up and breathe new life into tourism here. Let’s believe in the innovative folks and businesses in our community. There’s room for growth and improvement, especially when it comes to ditching old-fashioned perspectives and embracing fresh ideas!”

That sounds great. But HB Tourism shouldn’t fear … my bet is HBRC councillors will wilt under the pressure. And maybe a smidgen of guilt over abruptly and unilaterally abandoning a funding ‘pact’ previously made with fellow councils.

HB Tourism is heavily promoting Option 2 in the consultation document – no funding cut in year 1, but then down to $441,000 from HBRC in Years 2 and 3. HBRC will grab it, saying they’ve listened.

However, that number is posited on HB’s four other councils coming to the rescue of HB Tourism with the additional $1 million+ of the full budget.

From a ratepayer point of view, that’s a mere shell game – take it from your left pocket instead of your right.

And even that deal is not guaranteed. The region’s mayors are sweating blood as they try to squeeze down their own rate demands without crippling their core services. And now HB Tourism wants them to reverse direction to bail out a $1.3 billion industry?!

Good luck with that one, George Hickton.


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1 Comment

  1. The present Government has forced a 15% GST charge to be added to visitor bookings made through web based platforms (such as Bookabach) from 1 April.
    Does HB Tourism support this? What is their view on this tax?
    Did HB Tourism object to this tax proposal at the time it was introduced by Labour? Will it reduce tourist numbers to Hawkes Bay?

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