Tourism benefits us all - don't squander what we have started.
The local tourism industry is extremely grateful to the Hawke's Bay Regional Council for its funding support to date.
But in the newly released "Facing Our Future 2018-28 Consultation Document", the council proposes to reduce annual funding by $300,000 a year ($1.8 million cumulative savings over three years).
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This equates to a 50 per cent cut in funding. What can be the rationale for this in the face of the enviable results achieved by Hawke's Bay Tourism (HBT)?
HBT is the official regional tourism organisation and is the only entity responsible for the destination marketing of Hawke's Bay, its cities, districts and experiences.
The regional destination marketing led by HBT benefits the whole region and so the current council funding channel is the simplest and the fairest way for all to contribute.
HBT has achieved incredible results and met all key performance indicators set.
Direct spending by visitors hit $630m in the year ended December 2017, tracking at 6 per cent annual growth.
An additional 470,000 visitor nights have been spent in Hawke's Bay in the past three years.
Tourism is often criticised as a low-wage industry. Well, for our young people it's a pathway to employment and in the past two years an additional 880 people have benefited from a having a job in tourism in Hawke's Bay.
Tourism now employs 6,200 people in our region.
Why wouldn't we want more of this?
No other regional tourism organisation (RTO) in New Zealand is fighting such a reduction in its core funding.
Individual tourism operators, mostly pretty small, can't market Hawke's Bay on their own.
That's why, the world over, tourism funding is centralised and jointly supported by councils and local operators in a collective approach as that's the most powerful way to get a destination message out - we are waving one flag and that's for Hawke's Bay.
The job of Tourism New Zealand is to get visitors to New Zealand.
The job of HBT is to get visitors to Hawke's Bay.
This is the rationale for the tagline adopted by HBT: "Get me to Hawke's Bay".
The job of local tourism operators is to deliver the promise on the ground and give visitors a reason to return.
At present HBT is funded by the council to the tune of $1.8m which equates to $26 per ratepayer.
HBT is able to take its council funding and generate a multiplier effect.
This is achieved though the collection of industry membership levies, attracting sponsorship and through the successful management of regional events such as F.A.W.C! The Big Easy and the AirNZ Marathon.
Another important function of HBT is to lead and facilitate media and trade familiarisations (famils).
This showcases what the region has on offer whether it is accommodation, attractions, conference facilities, transport options or natural scenery.
The return for Hawke's Bay from hosting travel writers and film crews is in the tens of millions of dollars – this is effectively free advertising, HBT could never pay for that.
Trade famils pave the way for new sources of visitors to come to the region.
HBT and the industry host travel agents who sell or promote our region, mostly from overseas.
A small example – we have hosted more than 30 American agents in the past 3 years and we have seen the visitor spend from that market go up from $16m to $19m over three years.
Not a bad return on investment!
It is very hard to sell something with any degree of passion that you have not experienced for yourself.
HBT operators play a big part in these famils by donating or discounting product – close to $500,000 worth of product in the past year alone.
The tourism industry openly practises sustainable tourism because, for the most part, the natural environment is what we are sharing with our visitors.
The highest Qualmark environmental standards have just been awarded to the following Hawke's Bay businesses in the past six months – Kennedy Park, the National Aquarium of NZ, Odyssey New Zealand, the Art Deco Trust, Craggy Range, Napier Maori Tours … and the list goes on because this is just part of our everyday business.
It is time now for not only the tourism industry to step up, but those of you who also benefit from a prosperous region – do you or your kids have jobs in the hospitality or tourism industry?
Do you enjoy eating out at all these wonderful new places?
More visitors lead to more beds being needed, more taxis, more eggs being delivered, more milk being sold, and more coffee being made.
If you want to see more growth in Hawke's Bay, more employment opportunities, continued business confidence and resultant investment then have your say.
Neil Barber is the chairman of the Hawke's Bay Tourism Industry Association. In this capacity he also sits on the board of Hawke's Bay Tourism.