Please explain call at i Site closure

By John Cousins

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Tourism Bay of Plenty is to be grilled by city councillors on the shock closure of the visitor information centre at Mount Maunganui.

The unexpected closure of the i-Site nearly two weeks ago has sparked angry reactions from some tourism operators and councillors.

One of the most outspoken critics was Stuart Arnold, who until recently owned Dolphin Safaris. He said Tourism BOP did not consult tourist operators before deciding to close the i-Site in Salisbury Ave.

Mr Arnold said this was despite the fact that targeted rates paid by Tauranga's commercial sector propped up Tourism BOP.

He said the drop-off in business caused by the Rena disaster meant the tourism industry could not afford to lose the i-Site - even although the Tauranga downtown's i-Site remained open.

"It's an absolutely disastrous move."

Mr Arnold said it left New Zealand's top holiday destination without an i-Site branded visitor information centre.

He dismissed the shifting of some services into the Mount Maunganui Beachside Holiday Park's main reception area as a "fob off".

Unlike the summer traffic mayhem at the top end of the Mount under Mauao, the i-Site in Salisbury Ave was conveniently placed for arriving visitors and offered good parking. "It was a fantastic location."

Mr Arnold said it was no surprise that patronage and revenue had been declining because Tourism BOP had set up its own opposition to the i-Site through the i-Port welcoming area for cruise ship passengers inside the port gates.

Mr Arnold said Tourism BOP seemed to have missed the point that at least 80 per cent of people visited i-Sites to pick up brochures and then did their own bookings from where they were staying.

Councillor Murray Guy said councillors received no formal notification that the i-Site would close, even although the decision had implications for the council-owned Beachside Holiday Park.

"Tourism Bay of Plenty's board was not comfortable about us expressing concern but the process disenfranchised some elected members and the community from discussing the services provided by the board ... it should have been reported directly to council."

Mayor Stuart Crosby said there was an issue that there should have been more engagement with the council on such a big decision, but Tourism BOP's view was that it did not need the council's approval and had proceeded with the closure.

Mr Crosby said Tourism BOP had been delegated to do a job and needed to be responsible and accountable for its decisions. Political interference undermined that accountability.

An informal meeting planned between councillors and Tourism BOP was postponed after the death of council chief executive Ken Paterson.

Mr Crosby said there was a need for the council to understand why the decision was made and he expected that the information would show that the i-Site had been losing money "hand-over-fist".

"We need to understand in more detail Tourism Bay of Plenty's rationale for closing the i-Site."

Tourism BOP manager Rhys Arrowsmith said the decline in the Mount i-Site had started before the organisation set up the i-Port, and the losses were weighing down the total i-Site operation. The Tauranga i-Site broke even.

Mr Arrowsmith said i-Sites needed to be in areas of high foot traffic because that was how most visitors came across them. A prime spot was where one million visitors walked around Mauau each year.

"In some ways it [the i-Site] was like an unwanted child. It was a decision that had to be made at sometime."

Tourism BOP intended to re-establish a bigger and better i-Site at the Mount once it had the resources and found a better site.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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