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Tourism operators are worried already-stretched funding for domestic marketing may be stretched even further when local authorities are told to butt out.
In March then-local government minister Nick Smith flagged a proposal to reform the sector and curb rising rates and council debt.
He wanted to see more super city-style mergers and a return to providing more traditional civic services, instead of funding extra activities, such as events and tourism.
New local government minister David Carter is pushing on with a bill which threatens tourism funding and which has been referred to the local government and environment select committee.
“The amendment intends to refocus the purpose of local government, introduce financial prudence requirements for local authorities, strengthen council governance provisions and streamline council reorganisation procedures,” Mr Carter said at the time.
The amendment raised plenty of concern among opposition parties and local authorities, who worried that it might stifle democracy.
At a Tourism Industry Association summit in Wellington earlier this week, less than an hour of the morning session was devoted to the importance of the domestic tourism market.
Operators are worried about the lack of marketing and the uncertainty of funding for the $8 billion a year industry.
It is not part of Tourism New Zealand’s remit to market domestically. Instead, its focus is on marketing the country internationally.
But former Tourism NZ boss and current chairman of Hawke’s Bay Tourism George Hickton says domestic tourism remains a crucial part of the economy.
“It is still the largest part of the tourism industry."
It is often missed that it is the domestic tourism sector which starts building the tourism product and where people create tourism experiences, he says.
He told NBR ONLINE funding regional tourism operators like Hawke’s Bay Tourism is tough because half the time is often spent “fighting for your existence, fighting to justify your funding”.
Southland district mayor Frana Cardno is worried about her council's future ability to fund tourism if the government reforms are adopted.
“I think this is a huge threat to our regional tourism, where we put in a lot of money. We have to help those small operators in the Catlins, on Stewart Island, in Fiordland, and yet we may not be able to do that if this new bill goes through.”
Former AA Tourism ceo Peter Blackwell agrees funding was a challenge and believes the industry should look at a number of options, including whether or not to charge international tourists $25 at the border to help fund domestic tourism.
There is no such charge here, but Australia charges its visitors $55 each.
Chris Adams from Miles Media says $120 million was spent on travel and tourism advertising on television last year – 95% of which was telling New Zealanders to travel overseas.
“So there’s really no significant investment in domestic tourism other than from people such as Positively Wellington. Clearly, we need more activity – we need more co-ordination.”
From what he has seen in markets overseas, co-ordination within the industry is essential.
Nelson-Tasman tourism chief executive Lynda Keene agrees with Mr Hickton that Tourism NZ should not be distracted under current law from its work marketing New Zealand internationally.
However, she says economic domestic wellbeing is just as important as the international economic wellbeing of New Zealand and wants a policy change to enable Tourism NZ to fund domestic marketing.
She believes the best way to increase domestic visitor numbers and marketing is to give the marketing funds directly to regional tourism operators.
Ms Keene says they currently compete "dog-eat-dog style". All they typically need is a minimum investment of $30,000 to achieve huge results.