Tourism meets democracy, or is that bureaucracy?!?

DunedinAfter a few hours of much needed reflection following my representation of tourism at a notable mayoral debate held here in Dunedin, I find myself in a state of dismay about the candidature for the ‘top job’ here in the City of Dunedin.

All did not start well, with some candidates seeming to struggle even coming to grips with delivering a pre-prepared two minute introduction; with a radio microphone seeming to throw some right of kilter! After a slow and somewhat cringe-worthy start, most seemed to be settling in and starting to sound what you’d expect from someone who would consider standing for mayor.

A couple of questions in, the gentleman sitting next to me questioned whether in seeking to reduce council expenditure it was their role to be dealing with services out with ‘core services.’ Fair question you may be thinking, but the gentleman’s one and only example of areas that lay out with core services was tourism. It was at this point that I had to strongly withhold the temptation to open my mouth. Instead I waited and firmly followed up with a question based around the benefits of tourism to the city, how far Dunedin has come under the current council and whether any of the candidates would endorse further investment. Taking you back to my opening lines, the response has since left me in a slight state of shock.

Firstly, the complete lack of knowledge from many of those standing on our industry (a large employer and one of the only growing industries in Dunedin) simply dumbstruck me. Surely if you were running for Mayor, you would do your homework? For many of the candidates the stance was clear – we shouldn’t be worried about the tourists because if the infrastructure is good in our city then people would come anyway. I wish an opportunity would have been made for a follow up question, I would have loved to have stood up and suggested that perhaps with our panel of candidates being such experts on tourism they should take up positions advising other regional councils or even central government. If we seem to be ‘wasting’ so much money on tourists – then think how money could be saved across New Zealand if this’ unneeded’ expenditure of tourism was cut?

I apologise for my sarcasm and please don’t get me wrong, I am not naive, I understand that these people are looking for votes and tourism is certainly not an area that is going to win over a lot here in Dunedin. You would, however, like to think that the people standing for a position that has so much responsibility would put in a bit of research and at least try and keep one of the city’s key sectors onside.

5 Comments

  1. rosemary neave September 23, 2010 at 12:45 pm #

    Up here in Northland the level of engagement in tourism by local government people is often dismal, with a couple of exceptions. I think it is because the same old people vote for the same old people and there is not enough variety around the table to question the status quo.

    • Michelle Ackers September 27, 2010 at 6:59 pm #

      Yes I agree with you Rosemary – perhaps it’s also because we are lucky to have an effective and hard working team in our RTO that keeps our local government from getting involved in a bigger way, but certainly in the Far North the contribution from local government could be significantly better.

      With a bit of luck the coming election results will provide a change of attitude towards tourism development??

  2. Gareth Pearce September 23, 2010 at 4:29 pm #

    Great post James. You’ve prompted me to write down my about my experience about here in Central Hawkes Bay where I live. Where tourism is virtually non-existent compared to the rest of the country – and a poll came out last week that placed Hawkes Bay as a whole region last out of the 12 regions (http://www.fruitbowl.co.nz/lifestyle/where-have-the-tourists-gone/). Pen to paper…

  3. John Owens September 24, 2010 at 1:34 pm #

    You are right, James. The lack of knowledge within the Dunedin City Council of the value of tourism to the city is appalling. Very few of the councillors realise what a gem Dunedin is, probably being the South Island’s premier city with regards to heritage and wildlife.

    One of the main causes for this is their past reliance on the University and several large businesses and ‘old money’. These required no marketing. Consequently, the Council never learned to market.

    From their point of view, the city has survived without marketing tourism effectively and they see no reason why it should not continue to do so!

    Happily, the internet now gives tourism operators power that they never had before. Power to market themselves to the world without the need of sanction, commitment or budget from council or government.

    There are three essential elements for this are:

    1) a properly constructed website that is fully optimsed both from a marketing and search engine point of view

    2) the ability to easily publish news and events from their website

    3) The proper integrated use of social media applications such as Facebook and Twitter

    If operators do not currently have these skills in their organisations then they need either to get them or start networking with others who have them and who can mentor them in their use.

    Regards
    John

  4. James Hacon September 24, 2010 at 4:59 pm #

    Great to see so much of a passionate response, I think that it is something that is maybe endemic to politics in many ways. Perhaps we should all go into politics! 🙂

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