All stars need the four stars

Taranaki can forget about hosting major international events in the future unless a critical lack of quality hotel accommodation is sorted.

The warning was issued yesterday at a New Plymouth District Council hearing to consider a resource consent application to build the 100-room four-star Hobson Hotel in the city.

A major feature of the hearing was a series of complaints over the availability and standard of hotel rooms in Taranaki, particularly New Plymouth.

Independent hearing commissioner Bill Wasley, Tauranga, heard that the region's ratio of hotel to motel accommodation was way out of kilter with only 37 per cent provided by hotels - in the larger centres it is generally between 70 and 80 per cent.

As a result hotel room rates in New Plymouth were very high compared with most other cities in New Zealand, the hearing was told by hospitality expert Gordon Campbell.

The strongest complaints were not about the cost, but about the lack of availability of quality hotel accommodation.

The toughest warning came from the Taranaki Rugby Union which said it had received feedback from both the All Blacks management and management of visiting international teams that the current quality of New Plymouth's large hotels was not up to standard.

And the TRFU was backed up by the Taranaki Arts Festival Trust and Americarna, neither of which minced words in their opinion on the state of the city's hotel accommodation.

"As New Plymouth and Taranaki continue to attract and develop a number of events including Americarna, Brooklands Bowl concerts, Taranaki Garden Spectacular, Tropfest, Taranaki International Festival of the Arts, major rugby games and others, the issue of accommodation will continue to be a challenge," arts festival trust chief executive Suzanne Porter said.

"Ultimately it may be the barrier that means that our events and festivals do not grow - or in fact, in the longer term, survive and remain here in New Plymouth."

Americarna director John Rae said the recent past had already seen times where there had not been enough accommodation in New Plymouth to cater for demand - in fact the Taranaki Chamber of Commerce was regularly told a lack of quality rooms and venues prevented major conferences being held in the city.

"New Plymouth needs new modern accommodation such as that proposed by Hobson Hotel, as a number of the hotels and motels in New Plymouth are extremely tired."

TRFU commercial manager Geoff Hitchcock told the hearing that recent international rugby test matches in New Plymouth had all been sell-outs, meaning all accommodation quickly filled throughout the region.

"Additional accommodation for these events in Taranaki is badly needed. In addition to this capacity issue, Taranaki Rugby also has an issue with the quality of available accommodation," he said.

"If Taranaki wishes to remain a preferred destination for international-level test matches then increased quality and quantity of accommodation is very important."

Scott Grieve, counsel for the applicant Hobson Hotel Property Holdings Ltd, added that Taranaki's buoyant energy, engineering and farming sectors had often outstripped hotel availability, meaning visitors had been forced to stay out of town or choose a motel.

Yesterday's hearing was held because the district council has received objections to Hobson Hotel Property Holding Ltd's plan to build the multi-storey hotel, which will have 100 guest rooms, 100-seat restaurant, and conference facilities for up to 250.

A total of 12 submissions were received, four of them in opposition. Primary reasons for the objections have been loss of value of neighbouring properties, outlook, and shading from the hotel which will be up to 18 metres high.

A nearby motel has also objected about potential noise from the hotel's convention centre.

Taranaki Daily News