Editorial: Time for a fresh start

Last updated 05:00 15/06/2012

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OPINION: Given its amazing natural beauty, from barren, almost other-worldly vistas in the Mackenzie Basin, to majestic mountains and stunning lakes, it would seem that promoting tourism in the Mackenzie District should be a doddle.

Who wouldn't want to come and take a look? Especially now that the night sky over Tekapo has gained ongoing protection.

And yet, yesterday morning it was announced that the Mackenzie Tourism and Development Trust, a council-controlled body operating at arm's length from it, has been dumped. The move had been on the cards, given the trust's recent history of going cap in hand to the council for additional funding.

"Unfortunately there had been a loss of confidence in the structure of the trust and its ability to deliver the essential services at an affordable cost," Mayor Claire Barlow said. She added that the trust was facing a $200,000 deficit.

Which is a pretty big chunk of change for a district which, though covering a vast area, has a tiny ratepayer base of just 4000. Trust members may well counter that $450,000, which the trust hoped its annual funding could be upped to, is not that much when you're trying to attract the world to your patch.

It's been a messy situation, which the district council is plainly anxious to move on from with a clean slate. And this is a good opportunity. Pared down, focused on its core function, with a night sky reserve and the new Alps to Ocean cycleway as new jewels in an already heavy tourism crown.

So why did it happen? There will be conflicting views, but it seems clear that the trust was not successful in marketing itself to the district's numerous accommodation providers. The Herald's story just two days ago on the long-term plan hearings made plain that several of those providers didn't have a clear idea of the trust's purpose. What they were clear on was that it's been a rough last year and a half, with tourism down due to the Canterbury earthquakes, and the trust was seeking to have their contributions to its operations increased.

"In tight economic times, we have to act smarter and not be more expensive," said one, Walter Speck.

Some felt their operations received no benefit from the trust.

What was particularly damning about the discussion was trust chairman Jim Scott's admission that there had been little consultation with smaller providers. No wonder those providers didn't know what the trust was there for.

Against that background, a fresh, focused start seems like an idea whose time has come.

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- The Timaru Herald

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