TDC set to pull the plug on tourism body's funding

The Tasman District Council plans to slash its support to the region's tourism promotion organisation by more than half next year before wiping its contribution completely.

The announcement confirms the council's stance on tourism funding, which has been under discussion for the past two years.

But Nelson Tasman Tourism (NTT) heads have urged the council to think again.

NTT chairman Phil Taylor and chief executive Lynda Keene have asked the council to carefully consider any decisions around trimming its current $426,000 contribution, after Thursday's decision by councillors to cut funding next year and then consult on withdrawing from funding the organisation completely in 2015-16.

Mr Taylor and Ms Keene have also asked the council to wait another year before making any funding changes.

NTT is a council-controlled trading organisation owned by the Tasman district and Nelson city councils.

Tasman Mayor Richard Kempthorne predicted that the decision would not come as a huge surprise to the Nelson council. The councils have been discussing NTT's future funding for the past two years.

Deputy mayor Tim King proposed that NTT's funding from Tasman be reduced to $170,000 for 2014-15, but that it be given $45,000 towards supporting Tasman's visitor centre operations.

Mr King said there had been a "lot of community angst" over the council's debt, and the decision heralded the council's intention to cut costs.

Councillors received a consultant's report on financial assistance for regional tourism, which questioned the rationale for continued funding after NTT announced in April that it would close the Golden Bay and Murchison visitor information centres.

In his report to the council, corporate services manager Mike Drummond said the review was driven by concerns about a lack of value for ratepayers from NTT, given its withdrawal from supporting the visitor information centres.

NTT said earlier this year that the centres were not financially viable. The Murchison centre loses $74,000 a year, the Golden Bay centre $64,000, Motueka $50,000 and Nelson $30,000.

However, Mr Taylor said 76 per cent of the business and 90 per cent of the inquiries made through the Nelson iSite were for Tasman businesses and attractions.

Murchison visitor information centre supporters made a presentation to the council yesterday. They proposed that it be merged with the council's service centre and library to save costs.

Moutere councillor Brian Ensor said the proposal could be covered by the council's current $62,000 contribution for its service centre in the town. Council chief executive Lindsay McKenzie said the proposal was worth investigating.

The report also recommended that the region's tourism services be restructured and that NTT be merged with the Nelson Regional Economic Development Agency (EDA).

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese said that if Tasman wanted to go this way, it would first have to talk with the Nelson council, which is the sole owner of the EDA.

"We still believe tourism promotion services are important to the region, but NTT is jointly owned, and Nelson city is the sole owner of the EDA."

Ms Reese said she had yet to see the consultant's report, and the TDC had yet to discuss the matter with her.

"I would have thought that might have happened sooner."

Mr Taylor said that while there would be some advantages in merging tourism promotion with the EDA, it would have to be handled carefully.

He said NTT had one of the highest private investor ratios from tourism businesses in the country, and suggested this would be at risk if it was merged with the EDA.

Tourism funding watchdog Garrick Batten congratulated the TDC for "finally listening to ratepayers' concerns and deciding to run NTT as a commercial business".

Mr Batten said he was "amazed" to learn that despite about $4 million from rates being spent on funding NTT, this had been done "without adequate economic evaluation".

He noted that there was no mention of plans for double that amount to be spent on the Great Taste Trail and tourism roading infrastructure, both of which directly benefited tourism.

The Nelson Mail