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Staff numbers have been cut at Tourism Waitaki - council

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Tourism Waitaki carry out a multitude of roles, providing the Regional Tourism services to the district. Providing management support and day-to-day business services to Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, Ōamaru Blue Penguin Colony, Ōamaru i-Site, Ōmārama Information Centre, Whitestone City, Heritage Walking Tours, marketing for these attractions and the Waitaki Whitestone aspiring Global Geopark, overseeing the district’s website - Waitakinz.com, along with the district’s profile on Facebook and Instagram.

The 17.22 full-time equivalents (FTEs) employed by the Company previously has been reduced to 5.7 FTE’s while five new casual positions have been created.

Staff were informed of the decision on Monday evening after consultation including the Public Service Association.

"The impact of COVID-19 has been enormous and triggered a total review of all our activities. We lost 80 percent of our income. We could not continue at pre-COVID-19 levels," General Manager Margaret Munro said.

"Throughout the restructure process we have reviewed and reduced our fixed costs, endeavoured to maintain our revenue generating components and tourism icons and matched this with our staff costs," she explained.

Operations to continue are the Ōamaru Blue Penguin Colony and research facility, Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail and Waitaki Whitestone aspiring Global Geopark marketing and promotion and Heritage Walking Tours, additionally the duties carried out as the districts Regional Tourism body.

"Our focus is to continue with enhancing the district’s profile nationally and regionally and re- imagining the visitor experience at the Ōamaru Blue Penguin Colony (OBPC), along with supporting local tourism operators, these components will operate at reduced capacity to start with," she explained. "Hours can be extended, and casual roles become permanent part-time, if there is a steady and regular increase to our revenue in the future."

She said Tourism Waitaki may be able to obtain some Government funding support if it meets the eligibility criteria.

"We will monitor the financial status monthly and further structural reviews cannot be ruled out". But the Ōamaru i-Site and Ōmārama Information Centre will be closed permanently.

"These have been tough decisions for the Board of Tourism Waitaki to make," Chairman, Mike McElhinney said.

"The staff were highly capable, held significant local knowledge, and helped many visitors to the district over the years, supported many event’s with selling tickets and displaying event information."

"It has been an incredibly hard decision to come to for both the Tourism Waitaki Board and the Waitaki District Council (as Shareholders) to reluctantly remove this service from the district." he said.

The provision of information services in Ōamaru, Kurow and Omarama has been part of Tourism Waitaki activity.

Mrs Munro said visitors, bookings and commissions through the i-Sites had been reducing steadily with many people moving to on-line services.

"The Board had to weigh up the value of maintaining an information service in light of the current climate, against the cost of retaining the services to the district having reached a point where they are now unsustainable."

Tourism Waitaki will also vacate its office space above the Ōamaru i-Site at 1 Thames Street at the end of June and cease its lease of the former St Thomas Church at Ōmārama, which has housed the information centre.

Retained staff will operate from home and at the Ōamaru Blue Penguin Colony.

The OBPC has been the major source of revenue for most of the Company operations throughout the Waitaki District.

Chairman Mike McElhinney said this had been the intent of the District Council when it handed the Colony to Tourism Waitaki and it would eventually have led to TWL being self-sustaining over a 10- year period.

"We hosted 77,000 visitors in 2018 and 70,000 in 2019-and 88% of those were International. Revenue from this source has virtually ceased and the possibility of New Zealand tourists filling the gap left by International Tourism is not achievable" he explained.

Mr McElhinney said the Company was now looking at how the Ōamaru Blue Penguin Colony could be re-imagined appealing to a wider demographic and draft plans were put to the Board this week.

Waitaki District Mayor Gary Kircher confirmed the council had regular meetings with the Board and GM of Tourism Waitaki Ltd and was fully aware of the position the Company was in as a result of COVID-19.

"This is a terrible situation that the company is faced with, and sadly some very difficult decisions have had to be made. Our Councillors and I have been grateful for the dedication and hard work that the Board has put in to ensuring Tourism Waitaki remains a viable business and that they have retained a structure that will continue to promote Waitaki."

"We will continue working closely with them and have instructed our Chief Executive to look at redeployment options for TWL staff where possible, and we look forward to the time when visitor numbers once again grow to help sustain those jobs again." he added.

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