Industry in danger


We knew this year would be challenging with our six funding councils looking at their Long Term Plans (LTP) for the 2025-2035 period, with all areas of the budget coming under close scrutiny.

Based on what we know from the consultation process so far, we have grave and growing concerns about proposed council funding cuts for Hamilton and Waikato Tourism (HWT) and the resulting impact on our Waikato visitor sector.

Nicola Greenwell.

At a meeting last November, Hamilton City councillors voted in favour of the draft LTP budget with a 50 per cent cut to funding for HWT, equating to $357,000.

Similar funding reductions are being tabled by some of the other five Waikato councils that partner us  – Waipā District Council is proposing a 20 per cent decrease, Waikato District Council a 50 per cent reduction,  Waitomo District Council have indicated a significant cut, Matamata-Piako District Council are proposing to hold and at the time of writing this, Ōtorohanga District Council is yet to confirm their funding decision.

HWT’s annual operating budget at $1.343 million is already one of the lowest across the country – only three of New Zealand’s 31 regional tourism organisations receive less per capita. The relatively small savings in council budgets will have a huge impact on our activity and will put at risk millions of dollars in visitor spending, which impacts business sustainability and jobs.

Currently, tourism directly employs more than 12,000 people across the region and is a key contributor to the region’s GDP, providing $1.9billion a year in visitor spending – adding an average of $5.1 million each day to the region’s economy.

Nick Andreef, CEO Waitomo Adventures. Photo: Supplied.

It provides jobs, enriches culture and provides community vibrancy through its support for cafes, restaurants, hospitality venues and events in our city and towns. Our share of the market sees the Waikato ranked fifth highest when it comes to visitor spend and we host 9.7 per cent of all New Zealand business events, attracting 94,400 delegates last year.

So, some may say that tourism is already doing well and therefore continued sustained investment in regional tourism organisations (RTO) isn’t required. However, we know that the compounded investment to date in the RTO from our council partners has enabled and assisted these great results, and any significant funding cuts have the potential to have a devastating impact on the many Waikato businesses and residents that directly and indirectly rely on the visitor sector for their livelihoods.

National and international figures clearly show that reductions or cessation in investment creates a loss of momentum, and the growth trajectory and market share of visitators is detrimentally impacted.

In fact, it happened here before when the Waikato organisation was closed in 2006. There was a clear decline in visitor numbers, spend, bed nights and employment until 2011 when the RTO was re-established, and the growth trajectories began to return.

Rangiriri Paa runs ‘We Survived Annihilation’ education and professional learning development tours to show the origins of the King movement, the intent of the Crown invasion and intergenerational trauma. Photo: Mary Anne Gill.

This is because it is the conductor of the visitor sector orchestra – working behind the scenes to bring the industry together and to facilitate, drive and enable growth. We are the delivery arm for Councils to achieve success across many of LTP outcomes such as economic benefit, environmental care, infrastructure development and community pride. It is a partnership of mutual benefit, and the Council’s continued investment in the RTO should be viewed as an investment in the social, cultural, environmental and economic wellbeing of the communities we operate in.

Of course we understand, like all businesses, councils up and down the country are facing rising costs, tight budgets, and tough decisions; some of which are needed to reset the fiscal situation into the future. However, as a high performing and valuable sector, their investment and partnership in tourism and the hundreds of local jobs and millions of dollars in visitor spending should not be sacrificed.

Public consultation on the city and districts’ draft Long-Term Plans takes place in March and April, and we encourage everyone who directly and indirectly benefits from the visitor sector to have their say.

Now is the time for people to stand up for tourism, events and hospitality sectors and the multitude of flow-on benefits they provide to Waikato communities – there’s too much at risk not to.

See: ‘Untenable’ hit for tourism





About Author

Nicola Greenwell

Interim General Manager, Hamilton & Waikato Tourism