Questions could soon be raised about the source of funding for the agency charged with promoting Hawke's Bay as a tourism destination - an industry which annually contributes more than $600 million to the region's economy.

Hawke's Bay Tourism was formed in 2011 as a regional tourism organisation, and is responsible for the region's tourism marketing and promotion.

Hawke's Bay Regional Council is the main source of funding for the tourism body. It received $1.5million in funding from council grants in the 2016/2017 year, and is set to receive $1.8million in the current financial year.

This means its funding will come under scrutiny through the Long Term Plan 2018-2028 (LTP) process, for which council is currently preparing.


Yesterday councillor Neil Kirton - who chairs the Corporate and Strategic Committee to which Hawke's Bay Tourism presents - said "Hawke's Bay Tourism's contract ends in 2018 so the whole proposal, or the whole scheme and policy essentially is now up for review, and that coincides with our LTP".

"The regional council will be actively considering whether to continue funding tourism using the economic development rate. There will be decision-making around whether to continue using that rate into the future."

The agency is the most significant beneficiary of the council's targeted economic development rate - which is seen as a "common-sense approach" to funding the regional organisation through the regional council, instead of through multiple parties, said council group manager strategic development Tom Skerman.

Yesterday, Hawke's Bay Tourism general manager Annie Dundas said it was currently working on its plans ahead of the LTP, but hoped funding would be maintained.

The region was currently exceeding the national average for visitor expenditure and arrivals, "so we want that to continue for Hawke's Bay".

"It's a $614million industry and employs close to 4000, or 5000 people in Hawke's Bay. It's about making sure we continue to support the community through opportunities that come because of tourism."

She said the current funding model made sense from a regional perspective, as it was the only entity which promoted the entire region.

"The key thing for us is that we did receive additional funding, which we were very grateful for, and we've achieved all our [key performance indicators], in fact we've exceeded them over that three year period."

In 2015 the body requested its funding be increased by $900,000 from the $850,000 it then received, as this would echo the doubling in the amount of tourism revenue the region would be pulling in over the next decade.

The council's LTP 2015-2015 set out increased funding for the agency in the first three years of the plan, with $900,000 divided over three financial years between 2015 and 2018.

"We'd like to maintain the funding that we have with regional council, we think that's important for the industry to continue on the growth curve that it's currently on," Ms Dundas said.

As well as timing, other questions are likely to be raised during this process, as regional councillors have stressed a desire to determine and then focus on what their core responsibilities are.

In light of this, Mr Kirton said where tourism promotion fitted with the regional council could be questioned.

"There'll be a number of discussions, again going back to the core question of should the regional council be doing that work when a lot of the, if you like activity and purpose [of tourism], is very much a local authority issue."

The organisation will be presenting to the Corporate and Strategic Committee early next month for its usual quarterly reporting.

"I'm sure [it] will be presenting to us in a way that preserves what's currently there, it's our job to ask those broader questions," Mr Kirton said.

"Tourism is one of our leading export businesses and our region needs to play its bit in that. It's a bigger industry now than dairying so it points to the region's significance."

Tourism was worth about $608million a year to the region's economy to June 2017, the agency's latest report stated.

This equated to more than 4.1 million visitor nights per annum. Since Hawke's Bay Tourism was established, an additional 500,000 visitor nights have been spent in the region.

On next month's meeting Mr Skerman said "while their funding arrangements do not, I understand, form a part of the agenda you can never rule out a general question of discussion on that issue".

Regional council chairman Rex Graham was unavailable for comment. Deputy chairman Rick Barker did not return requests for comment.