Editorial: Opportunity to attract the tourist dollar

By Dylan Thorne

15 comments


There's been a lot of debate this week about a planned $4 million cultural centre telling the story of Mauao.

The cultural centre is planned to be built on Coronation Park next to the Port of Tauranga in order to cash in on the booming cruise ship market.

Property investor Dr Randall Douglas and financial analyst Maia Ririnui, both from Mount Maunganui, unveiled the concept to the Tauranga City Council earlier this week.

They say it will offer a high-tech cultural experience of an international standard.

They promise an "iconic" design based on a traditional Maori wharenui (meeting house) but with a contemporary interior. It will face Salisbury Ave and be built on the site of the former i-Site, with parking behind.

The cultural centre will be owned by a charitable trust and be funded by public grants of $3 million, private grants of $500,000 and $500,000 in loans.

The key to its financial viability is that it needs to attract 5 per cent of cruise ship passengers, growing to 10 per cent by year five of opening.

The other key assumption is that it will attract one in every thousand international tourists to the Bay and five in every thousand domestic visitors.

Admission will be $25 and if everything goes according to plan it will be making a $17,000 profit after two years. The promoters ask the council to support the concept and offer guidance through the resource consent process, culminating with the trust leasing the site.

They were criticised for not having iwi representatives with them when they presented the plan but said they had spoken to leaders from two of Tauranga Moana's three iwi. They conceded they were unlikely to receive official iwi backing until Treaty settlement processes had been concluded. This could take some time.

The project has merit and it represents a cultural tourism challenge to Rotorua.

Tourism bosses there say they are unconcerned about the project but it's hard to see how the planned cultural centre will not impact on the number of cruise ship visitors travelling to Rotorua. The story sparked a lot of debate online.

Some questioned the use of public grants to set up the venture while others believed it would help counteract the lure of Rotorua for cruise ship passengers.

I agree with the latter. It is an opportunity to keep visiting cruise ship passengers in the Western Bay instead of heading inland to Rotorua.

We shouldn't forget just how significant the cruise ship industry is to the region. Last season it was projected that $47 million was spent Bay-wide by ship passengers and crew.

If the project does not get support because of a reluctance to spend public funds then the region will be counting its pennies while the dollars roll by. If we want more tourists to stay in the Western Bay, we need to provide an incentive for them to remain.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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