Uncertain future for iSite visitor centres

NAOMI ARNOLD
Last updated 12:00 22/02/2014

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Visitor centres facing a new future without Tasman District ratepayer support will likely have to figure out how to fund themselves.

On Wednesday, the Tasman District Council agreed to its tourism funding for 2014-15 in its draft annual plan, which will be adopted on March 15 and then released for public consultation.

But discussions about future funding for iSites will start from a council position that general ratepayers should not be funding tourism organisations.

In April 2012, Nelson Tasman Tourism told its shareholders - the two councils - that it was not sustainable to operate four iSites in the region.

Nelson Tasman Tourism chairman Phil Taylor said small iSites in particular were becoming less viable to operate, mirroring trends throughout the country, and it suggested withdrawing from operating the Golden Bay and Murchison sites.

"Between them [they] accounted for roughly 15 per cent of the visitors and business yet they were the most expensive ones to operate," Mr Taylor said.

The Murchison centre loses $74,000 a year, the Golden Bay centre $64,000, Motueka $50,000 and Nelson $30,000. "Our recommendation to our shareholders was we could achieve a far better return for the ratepayers by investing that money into regional marketing as a destination which we are always struggling to have sufficient funds for."

TDC has responded to NTT's decision by allocating up to $50,000 to Motueka, up to $30,000 to Golden Bay, up to $12,000 to Murchison, and up to $8000 to Richmond over 2014-15, within a capped tourism funding pool of $405,000. "That [has] been reduced from the investment TDC makes in NTT," Mr Taylor said. "We're a net no better off."

Mr Taylor said NTT still believed in the future of iSites.

"We believe the model that we operate just isn't viable for small operators like Murchison and some other model has to be found. TDC has decided they will be the people who will investigate that, or alternatively they will hand that back to the community to decide. We're fine with that."

He did not want to comment on what solutions there might be.

"There is a local benefit in having the iSite there and I think the locals need to try and figure out a way to try and make that into a sustainable operation," he said.

Mr Kempthorne and TDC chief executive Lindsay McKenzie will meet their Nelson City colleagues, NTT chief executive Lynda Keene, Mr Taylor and industry representatives to discuss the decisions.

Golden Bay Promotions Association chairman Paddy Gillooly said nothing was certain, and they were waiting for the outcome of the council's process.

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"We're carrying on with our money-raising activities through the members and other sources that we're going to try," he said. "We're hopeful that we'll be operating when NTT ceases to run it at the end of April."

He said how much money they got would dictate what form the information centre would take and the number of staff.

"We don't have any other money we can put to this. It's got to be self-sustaining. So [we will use] whatever funds we can get from any sources."

What is the impact of the tourism funding cuts on the 800 people of Murchison? P17, 18.

- Nelson

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