OPINION: For two years the Tasman District Council has been signalling a rethink on regional tourism funding. News, then, that it plans to slash its contribution to Nelson Tasman Tourism by more than half next financial year and consider opting out altogether in 2015 is no surprise.
Its tough line comes as it takes heed of concerns being raised, nationally and locally, about its debt level, both current and projected, and amid ongoing pressure to hold down rates increases.
As well, some councillors have philosophical objections to local funding for private, commercial ventures.
NTT's decision to close visitor information centres in Golden Bay and Murchison gave councillors further encouragement to take a tough stance.
The latest twist is a proposal from Murchison to bring visitor information into the council service centre and library - a suggestion that makes perfect sense regardless of the wider issue of tourism funding. Clearly, Murchison people see the value of tourism services even if councillors don't.
A TDC report on tourism funding suggests that NTT be merged with the Nelson Regional Economic Development Agency. That might save administration costs and is worth considering.
However, the two groups have quite separate and distinct focuses. More, the EDA is a Nelson City Council entity - whereas 90 per cent of all inquiries at the NTT's main Nelson visitor information centres and three-quarters of all business relates to activities and operators in the Tasman district. Thanks for the subsidy, Nelson. Not a bad ploy if you can get away with it. Amalgamation, anyone? Under pressure to cut their coat according to their cloth, tourism funding clearly appeals as an easy target.
Tasman's contribution this year is a relatively big number at more than $400,000, which councillors agreed to lop back to $170,000 for the year starting on July 1, plus perhaps a further $45,000 for visitor centres in the district if a proposal from deputy mayor Tim King gains traction. The following year, funding to NTT would be wiped altogether, leaving it - presumably - as a regional entity that the NCC would be expected to carry alone.
Tasman should consider its position carefully. Tourism is a significant and important contributor to the provincial economy - fourth behind horticulture/farming, forestry and fishing.
This region has many natural attributes, from its weather and central location to its internationally renowned conservation estate. However, unlike other business sectors, tourism requires a high degree of promotion, collaboration among otherwise rival commercial entities, and the sort of regional pitch and planning that only a publicly funded and run operation like NTT can provide.
Other regions get this, and offer considerable competition for tourist attention. Some council promotion bodies enjoy far greater funding than this region's. Tasman risks killing the goose that brings us much-needed gold.