''Our city is dying.''
That was just one comment raised at a meeting this evening where tourism businesses pleaded for Rotorua Lakes Council contenders to take urgent action to reduce crime and homelessness in the central city.
Tourism Industry Aotearoa asked mayoral and wider council candidates to give their views on Airbnbs, inner-city crime, homelessness, targeted rates and freedom camping, before taking questions from the floor.
Hennessy's Irish Bar owner Reg Hennessy told candidates a facilitated response to homelessness and crime was needed or "nobody will be coming into our city at all".
"Our city is dying ... because of what is going on in our streets. I see it day and night."
Two other business operators stood and also spoke briefly in support of Hennessy's comments.
Incumbent mayor Steve Chadwick said she was willing to lead a housing plan if re-elected.
She said it would cover the central-city issues, the loss of rentals to the Airbnb market, the availability of land and social sector providers.
"Council has a role in leading that ... but it isn't delivered by council," she said.
Fellow mayoral candidate Dennis Curtis said the council had to help lead a response: "We don't have a choice about whether we are going to stand up and do it.
"It [homelessness and crime in the central city] didn't sneak up on us last night, it's been happening for years."
Council candidate John Rakei-Clark caused widespread disapproval when he compared the homeless to "rubbish" that needed to be kept in a "dedicated area".
"This is our rubbish, so let's look after it," he said.
Others in the room, including fellow contender Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, expressed immediate disagreement.
Raukawa-Tait later said crime and homelessness in the central city were not a good look but needed "hardcore work".
"The homeless have high and complex needs. It is not just about housing, it is not just about low or no income coming into the home, it is about mental health so often. And most of those people would be unemployable right now," she said.
Candidate Ryan Gray said he did not think Tauranga's ban on begging and rough sleeping in the central city "that just sweeps people down the road like they're a pile of rubbish" would work in Rotorua.
"I would prefer that we partner with Government and social service agencies to address the underlying issues as to why people are homeless."
Fellow candidate Oscar Nathan agreed the central-city problems were getting worse, and he said Rotorua needed to "be careful not to kill the golden goose [the tourism industry]".
However, he acknowledged, "They [the homeless] are our community".
Council contenders Trish Hosking and Brendan Davis said Rotorua's homeless shelter was not in the right place and Hosking said explicitly that it needed to be away from the central city.
Dave Donaldson, who is again vying for a seat on the council, said he and the mayor had been meeting monthly with police and were raising the inner-city issues "at every opportunity" with them.
All contenders who spoke about targeted rates in Rotorua, such as local bed taxes, opposed them but were spilt when discussing how Airbnbs were affecting Rotorua's tourism industry.