South Waikato District Council won't renew its three-year promotion funding agreement with Hamilton and Waikato Tourism.
The council has cut its annual investment of $60,000 to the regional tourism organisation (RTO) to instead promote the district itself.
This means Hamilton & Waikato Tourism will no longer promote and support tourism businesses in the district, including marketing, destination planning, hosting media and travel writers, research, business events and major events support for South Waikato's visitor sector.
Hamilton & Waikato Tourism chief executive Jason Dawson is deeply disappointed by the decision, and is concerned for local businesses that rely on tourism.
"For the past 10 years, we have worked really hard to attract domestic and international visitors into South Waikato and the wider region. Businesses like Lake District Adventures, Waikato River Trails, Over The Moon Cheese and Cougar Mountain Bike Park that rely on visitors will have their long-term pipeline of demand significantly reduced. It's those businesses that will lose out from this decision and I'm incredibly disappointed for them."
South Waikato District Mayor Jenny Shattock says council is not "deinvesting", it is trying something different.
"Instead of funding Hamilton & Waikato Tourism, we want to invest directly into our own visitor experience. We are grateful for what Hamilton & Waikato Tourism have done for us in the past, but for the next three years, we want to try something new."
In response to Dawson's statement that South Waikato businesses will have demand reduced, she says: "I would dispute that. Those operators do a great job and we will be supporting them. We don't think they are going to miss out [as] we plan to invest $850,000 in visitor services in the coming financial year. "
"It is still early, but so far we haven't seen a difference in [visitor] numbers."
Shattock says the next step is to update visitor information for the district. "Every visitor is a potential resident. We are looking at all avenues ... and are currently working on signage, promoting assets on social media and we have community workshops to work together on a branding for the district."
Meanwhile, Lake District Adventures operations manager Steve Hastie says they are disappointed about council pulling the funding. "We as an operator strongly disagree with that decision. We were extremely happy with Hamilton & Waikato Tourism, [but] council thinks they can do a better job."
Hastie says Lake District Adventures would like to maintain a relationship with Hamilton & Waikato Tourism, but there are mandates.
"We had amazing support from them. We had access to social media exposure, industry famils, media contacts for online, print and TV, and overseas-based travel writers but as of July 1, we can't access that any more. We rely on that exposure."
Hamilton & Waikato Tourism will receive financial assets from three government-funded initiatives to assist with the post-Covid-19 recovery for the tourism sector that South Waikato District Council will no longer be able to access.
This includes operators who will also lose Tourism New Zealand contacts. "Their campaign Do something new, New Zealand is what carried us through the post-Covid time. Now we can't reach out to the domestic market the way we could with Hamilton & Waikato Tourism," Hastie says.
"[Council] is not coming from a tourism point of view. They say it's about visitation. Council wants people to come here to live, I understand that, but they are not tourism experts."
"I don't know what [council is] going to achieve, but I know what we are losing."
South Waikato District Council was the only council of seven in the Waikato area to cut funding for Hamilton & Waikato Tourism and destination marketing and support. All other councils maintain their levels of funding.
"Our region, which has always been popular with domestic visitors, now has an even greater opportunity to shine and I think those councils see that."