8 Apr 2016

Questions over Buller district's tourism spend

9:38 am on 8 April 2016

The Buller District mayor is questioning how much money the council spends on promoting tourism, given the low tourist spend in the district.

Buller

Buller councillors want results from tourism spend. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Tourists spent $350 million on the West Coast in the year to March 2015, but only $50m of that was spent in Buller.

Buller Mayor Garry Howard said his councillors wanted to see results from Tourism West Coast, with Buller only getting one-seventh of the tourism spend on the coast.

Buller, Westland and Grey District Councils, as well as Development West Coast, fund Tourism West Coast $86,000 each annually.

Mayor Garry Howard outside the Buller District Council office in Westport.

Mayor of Buller District Garry Howard Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Tourism West Coast chairperson Richard Benton said he believed ratepayers got great value for money.

The region had been reliant on mining for years and tourism had not had the same profile, he said.

"The number of visitors coming into Buller is 0.5 percent up on the previous year according to the MBIE (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) statistics. So Buller has done a pretty good job in keeping those visitor numbers given the number of corporate visitor numbers lost through mining.

"To be frank there's probably been a breakdown in communication between Tourism West Coast and the council as to the results we've been achieving, Mr Benton said.

Phil Perrott runs Miners on Sea, a cafe, bar and bottle store with accommodation suites in Granity, north of Westport.

He believed Tourism West Coast gave ratepayers value for money, but Buller was difficult to market and did not have big tourist drawcards like Queenstown.

Buller was also on a dead-end route, and a road between Buller and Nelson was needed, Mr Perrott said.

"Once that road is designated and set in concrete that it is definitely happening, there'll be a hell of lot more investment and the area will start to blossom. Until then we can only look for incremental increases in tourism.''

Negotiating Hawks Crag in the Buller Gorge might be a thing of the past if a new road to the West Coast is built.

Negotiating Hawks Crag in the Buller Gorge might be a thing of the past if a new road to the West Coast is built. Photo: RNZ/Tracy Neal

Mickey and Doreen Ryan run Outwest Tours which operate at Solid Energy's Stockton Opencast Mine, but are now looking to branch out to nature and back country tours.

Mr Ryan said the district needed to be marketed internationally and West Coast operators and Tourism West Coast needed each other.

''I understand they may have dropped the ball a bit in the past and concentrated more south but that's also a market thing because people bypass Westport because you've got to go off the main beat to go here," he said.

Pat Bradley, the manager of Bradley's Furniture in Westport, said he had no problem with what Tourism West Coast was delivering, but questioned how it was funded.

Tourism West Coast's default position seems to be to ask ratepayers for more money, but "every other business gets tapped to support the golden god of tourism.''

he said.

Submissions for the Buller council draft annual plan, including a roading proposal to link Buller and the Tasman Region Nelson, will go out for public submissions today.

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