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Antiquated regional tourism groups stifle the industry

By Graeme Kennedy

Friday 26th May 2000

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WORRIED: Trevor Hall says government does not take tourism seriously
Key elements of the New Zealand tourist industry need urgent reform to remove parochial and antiquated practices and structures that are stifling the country's biggest single foreign exchange earner, warns Totally Wellington's departing chief executive Trevor Hall.

The $4 billion industry was "perpetually compromised by its numerous groups, bodies and associations which continue to follow 50-year-old distribution structures that over time are becoming less and less effective," he said.

"There is a general worry for the industry as it seems stuck in these very old structures - yet there is a fear of change as it has a habit of preferring old loyalties rather than risking new partnerships and fresh thinking, which it treats with suspicion.

"The industry is over-organised and Tourism New Zealand would have better outcomes if the industry groups were better focused, better funded and there were fewer of them.

"They have a nervousness about external influences and engage in protective parochial practices.

"There is a degree of turf protection here, as there are people who have sat in the same seats for a very long time and might have to move on with change.

"Many are driving antiquated and costly multi-
duplicated administration structures and justify their existence by pointing to what they had done in the past rather than saying what they planned to do."

While Tourism New Zealand was responsible for generating overseas interest in visiting this country, it was up to the many separate organisations and their members to make the industry work.

Mr Hall said it would make good sense for those groups - including regional tourist organisations (RTOs) such as his own, the Tourism Industry Association, trade bodies such as the Inbound Tourism Operators Council and provider associations - to combine into a single strong representative organisation.

Mr Hall is leaving Totally Wellington after five years in which he built the RTO into the acknowledged industry leader. He will become chief executive of business-to-business e-commerce company Equs in Perth.

Under his leadership, the RTO took the capital's tourism worth to around $100 million a year and full-time equivalent jobs to almost 3000 with a highly successful domestic visitor programme.

Mr Hall said one of Totally Wellington's successes had been strong tourism funding from the council, which had voted the RTO $3.8 million for the current financial year.

He said the country's 20 to 30 RTOs should be reduced to between seven and 10 and cover broader geographic areas. Run by local councils, most were seriously under-funded and spent most resources on administration.

"Local government often sets up RTOs to fail through lack of primary investment and secure long-term funding. The funding shortfall in itself indicates there are far too many grappling for far too few resources," he said.

"Mr Hall said another major problem was the industry continued to be driven by brokers - retailers, wholesalers and inbound operators - rather than asset holders.

"This is akin to stockbrokers sitting on the boards of public companies and Totally Wellington in its five years has never had an industry person within its governance structures as we always felt it more important to have impartial strategic decision-making," he said.

Mr Hall said there was a dwindling tourism talent throughout the industry - "a complete skill base deficiency" - Totally Wellington overcame by recruiting 90% of staff from outside tourism and retraining.

"Tourism is a rare skill, needing passionate people. It involves non-tangible service marketing where you can't go out and sell then come back with an order - you can only hope that bookings will follow your efforts."

Mr Hall said one of the industry's great concerns was central government did not take tourism seriously.

"The new Employment Act changes have the potential to be a disaster for tourism and the cabinet at the moment sees it as a marginal portfolio with no apparent link with the central vision for the country."

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