Martin Snedden has a new mission. The man who ran New Zealand's hosting of the Rugby World Cup in 2011 wants to save Auckland.
Or save the visitors to Auckland. Or both.
Snedden has been chairing a group of business and public sector leaders, charged with guiding the creation of a brand new visitor plan for the city. That plan, called Destination AKL 2025, was launched this afternoon by the Minister of Tourism, Kelvin Davis, and the Auckland Mayor, Phil Goff.
The problem the new plan addresses is this. Visitors arrive in Auckland and it's beautiful, but then it rains and they can't go to the beach because there's sewage in the sea. They hear about the unique culture of the tangata whenua but they go down to the waterfront where all the visitors go and they can't see any evidence of it.
They run out of things to do at night because even the main shopping precincts close in the early evening. They hear about the great restaurants but when they visit it seems some of the staff couldn't care less. And, of course, they get stuck in traffic.
Visitors are important to Auckland, and Auckland's visitors are important to New Zealand. One in five people in this country is now employed in tourism and related industries like hospitality and Auckland is, by far, the country's leading visitor destination.
It's all going to grow. Numbers from the Trenz tourism event this week estimate that by 2025, last year's 2.6 million international visitors are projected to become 5.1 million. The $7.5 billion they spent is expected to rise to $13.9 billion.
The old plan used to be, market the city. The new plan is to manage the growth. Destination management is the big new idea.
Enter Martin Snedden. "It's not enough just talking about the visitor contribution to the economy," he told the Herald in an interview this week. "We don't want Aucklanders resenting visitors. This is a bit of a shift."
Destination AKL 2025 is the brainchild of ATEED, Auckland Council's tourism, events and economic development arm. It was ATEED who brought in Snedden and set him up with that industry leaders group.
Its members include the usual suspects – senior executives from various tourism agencies and big tourism-focused companies like the airport, Air New Zealand, the hotel and cruise sectors. But they've also got infrastructure organisations like Auckland Transport and MBIE (the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment). The education sector is there, because there are big implications for service-sector training. Māori Tourism is there and so is environmental champion Rob Fenwick. The council is there, led by chief executive Stephen Town, because ultimately the city will stand or fall on all this.
That's not always obvious. The tourism sector is a low-wage sector and as tourism strengthens its importance to the Auckland economy, that could get even more entrenched than it is now. The challenge is to use the visitor economy to drive up the living standards and aspirations of the people who live here, not drive them down.
When Snedden's group was first pulled together, they were asked to help ATEED create a new tourism plan. It's not so long since ATEED got in trouble with the Goff for a marketing strategy he thought was a waste of money. They were wary of making that mistake again.
But Snedden's group thought bigger: they wanted this to be a plan for the whole of Auckland and they're staying together to help see it through.
Snedden said that Pania Tyson-Nathan of NZ Māori Tourism was critical to that. "She told us, 'We need to keep talking to each other and we need to talk to others if we need this thing to stick.' So we're going to keep meeting. There's so much to do."
Still, you can't fix Auckland with an enthusiastic committee and good intentions. Snedden concedes that, but suggests you can make progress with a good framework.
Destination AKL 2025 has three basic principles: kotahitanga, kaitiakitanga and manaakitanga, or collaboration, guardianship and "a warm welcome". Also, it presents a future for the city in terms of six "visions": Auckland could be: unique, connected, captivating, skilled, sustainable and insightful.
The plan was presented to a council meeting this week by Steve Armitage, ATEED's general manager of destinations, and it was clear the mayor is on board with it this time.
But James Brown from the Independent Māori Statutory Board was concerned about limited iwi involvement. Armitage responded that mana whenua had been consistently invited but had not always taken up those invitations. Both agreed they have work to do.
Snedden told the Herald, "You don't get everyone at once. It's like an onion, where you keep wrapping it in more layers."
He said, "What we're doing still has a marketing component, of course it does. We want visitor numbers to grow. But actually it's about looking after the destination. Sustainability is critical to this. We haven't found other places anywhere in the world who see it this way."
It's hard to know if Snedden gets excited, as such. He's a steady, soft-spoken person. But no one listening to him could miss the determination.
"People talk about authenticity," he said. "Authentic strength is when visitors encounter a place where the people there really love it. They love to live there and work there. Other places around New Zealand, they're going to copy this."
But is Auckland, and the rest of the country, actually going to do it? The next step, which is not yet explained in any detail, is to start.