Plan to cut tourism funding criticised

Tasman district's tourism funding cuts show it fails to realise the importance of tourism to the district and the region as a whole, says John Gilbertson, Nelson branch administrator for the New Zealand Motel Association.

His comment comes after the Tasman District Council's proposal to cut its annual funding to promotions and marketing body Nelson-Tasman Tourism from $426,000 to $170,000 for 2014-15, but that it be given $45,000 towards supporting Tasman's visitor centre operations before financial support is cut completely. The process will be open to public submission.

At the council meeting Tasman's deputy mayor Tim King questioned the new manner of calculating regional domestic tourism spending which now includes the money spent electronically by New Zealanders outside their own council areas.

Mr King said the new methodology massively inflates regional domestic tourism income figures.

For example the methodology now used by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment's (MBIE) captures the electronic spending by Tasman residents in Nelson. The ministry's revised estimates found domestic and international tourists spent $520 million in Nelson-Tasman in the year to March 2012, up from $349.5m the previous year - which was calculated under the previous formula which estimated guest nights only.

To last March domestic visitors spent $109m in Nelson and $237.7m in Tasman.

Mr King questioned how local shopping by residents could be justified as domestic tourism spend and said doing so massively inflated perceived tourism income.

"We are being told tourism is much bigger because of this figure. We have gone from $349m to $520m on the back or re-arranging the deck chairs. This is not new money coming into the region and is not money generated by marketing."

But outside the meeting Mr Gilbertson said regular patterns of spending by residents outside their council areas, on items like groceries, was also not captured in the domestic tourism figures, only incidental spending.

He said the key to maintaining the tourism spend was the region's co-ordinated promotion through NTT, which was backed by co-ordinated efforts by the industry.

Cutting council support was a blinkered approach to the value of tourism to the region, he said.

"We need more support to put us in the race and grow our share of the national domestic market and support the current huge spend by operators.

"We need the region's councils to support us or we will struggle to achieve the national recognition we need."

MBIE spokesman Britton Broun said previous years' tourism spending data revised using the new methodology showed tourism spending in Nelson-Tasman has been relatively stable in recent years at about $500 million annually.

He said any definition of tourism spending would have grey areas and it was accepted some regular day to day business activity was wrongly counted as tourism, but the errors cancelled each other out on average as the figures were scaled up to account for the total size of tourism in any particular region.

However the value of the estimates in giving broadscale information on regional spend, products and tourists' origins was worthwhile and a big improvement on the previous survey-based estimates which were expensive and uncertain, he said.

NTT chief executive Lynda Keene said she had considered the region's estimated tourism spend was low under the previous estimated guest night methodology.

"When I was at Tourism Waikato a few years ago the visitor spend was $580m and the region is not a major visitor destination like Nelson Tasman. That figure was based on an economist's model from University of Waikato. On arriving in Nelson and looking at the former statistics, it just seemed too low for the region being such a strong performer with attracting the seventh highest number of visitors in New Zealand."

The Nelson Mail