With Hawke's Bay possibly in a position to start taking in large jet-loads of visitors within two years, and tourism poised to pump a billion a year into the region within seven years, businesses have been urged to stand up against proposed funding cuts.
Speaking at a Great Things Grow Here brand champions event at the Urban Winery in Napier on Thursday, Napier MP and Minister for Small Business Stuart Nash said Hawke's Bay Tourism had been doing fantastic job and urged businesses and community leaders to speak out about Hawke's Bay Regional Council's proposal to halve the amount of money it gave to Hawke's Bay Tourism.
"I love the new [environmental] focus but there is one decision I just do not get, and that is the funding for Hawke's Bay Tourism.
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"It's a wonderful organisation and I know exactly how much we pay - and it's not an awful lot - so for Hawke's Bay Regional Council to say we're dropping funding, I just do not get that.
"I think we need to send quite a loud message to Rex [Graham] and his councillors to say 'hey don't cut the funding'. This isn't happening anywhere else around the country. In fact, if anything you should be increasing funding."
Hawke's Bay Tourism general manager Annie Dundas said for the year to March, tourism had brought $636 million into the regional economy.
"That equates to $1.7m a day being spent in this region.
"In Central Hawke's Bay for example, they spent 14 per cent more than last year."
That resulted in $33m being brought into the relatively small economy in CHB.
The flow-on effects of tourism to local businesses were "massive", with only a tiny portion of overall spend going directly to tourism operators, she said.
However, Hawke's Bay accounted for only about 2 per cent on the nation's overall visitor spend.
The organisation's existing budget would only pay to maintain that percentage.
"Our aim is to make this a $1 billion industry by 2025 and if we continue to grow at the rate we are - we are going to get there sooner than that."
However, less money would hamper the organisation's ability to promote the region.
Hawke's Bay Airport chief executive Stuart Ainslie said in the past three years there had been a 45 per cent growth in passenger numbers and the airport was keen to see how it could develop new routes within New Zealand.
The airport has recently started a $15m terminal expansion programme but the dilemma within the next two years would expansion be enough, given the airport's growth.
"There's been a lot of talk about in the past about international flights coming into Hawke's Bay - that's probably way off in the future, but what's interesting, is if you look at our master plan, in terms of fleshing out route capacity in terms of larger aircraft, like a Boeing 737 - we're probably at a point now where those economies of scale are going to start working for us within two to three years."
He added that the airport was the gateway to the whole region.
"I'm really keen that our terminal, when we open it up, really captures a sense of place."
That could include showcasing more local brands to travellers within the terminal itself.
In its last planning cycle, HBRC committed to increasing funding for Hawke's Bay Tourism to $1.8m over three years but the council's new proposal would reduce its annual spend to $900,000 by year four.