Ruapehu District Council is leading the Tourism and Visitor Services opportunity for Accelerate25. The Ruapehu district is full of potential, they have the most incredible natural assets at their front doorstep - from mountains which can be enjoyed year round, through to beautiful forest parks and New Zealand’s most navigable (and stunning) river, the Whanganui.
A tender process was carried out at the end of 2016. The project group were looking for the right people to work on the two interlinked projects at the one time and consultants Henley-Hutchings fitted the bill perfectly.
The consultation process was comprehensive with the project team aiming to coalesce a ‘coalition of the willing’. Thirty-four experts were interviewed including kaumatua from Ruapehu iwi. Hui-a-iwi were also held at Pipiriki, two workshops were convened with Ruapehu councillors and 65 local visitor sector operators attended two external workshops.
A national visitor sector leaders group was also established, comprising of 10 individuals who play a dominant role in guiding the development of the visitor sector throughout New Zealand. At a local level, a leaders group of six people supported these national leaders. Four focus groups were also set up in Wellington and Auckland, comprising of 24 individuals in total.
With a complex project of this type, which takes into account consultation and feedback from numerous sectors, there would always be risks.
Warren Furner, the Economic Development Manager for Ruapehu District Council considered these risks when discussing the project recently.
“The necessary depth of iwi engagement required was seen as a significant issue as we needed greater funding and resources to overcome any concerns,” he says.
“We decided to front foot it, discussed it at the first Accelerate25 Lead Team presentation and came up with viable solutions, within the resources we had available.”
There was also a natural tension between commercial and social investment which at times could be a challenge to balance.
“Some audiences we worked with wanted to invest more socially such as warmer homes in the community, whereas commercial operators were focused on where the commercial strengths were and where to invest,” says Warren.
Former Visit Ruapehu Chief Executive Claire McKnight agrees.
“Ruapehu Alpine Lifts is the biggest commercial operator in our district, Pipiriki is only one hour 20 minutes drive from Whakapapa skifield, the question we had to ask ourselves is how we enable the people of Pipiriki to maximise from investment on the mountain,” she says.
“We will be focusing on projects that can work together for the flow of tourists through the district and by doing that we can maximise benefits for all.”
Sixteen projects have been identified as focus areas for tourism in the district. These have been categorised into three frameworks; iconic projects which will be a significant drawcard for visitors and are immediately implementable, high priority projects which tend to offer a good reason for spending an extra day or more in the district and thirdly those projects that require particular attention.
The full list of projects:
“We believe each of the new and expanded experiences, services and products will incrementally add benefits to visitor experiences and the flow on will have a positive effect on the community locally, regionally and nationally,” Claire says.
“With that in mind, we are also conscious of protecting all that makes our region so special, unique and attractive. Great care will be required to ensure all new developments are environmentally sustainable and proceed with respect for iwi values foremost in mind.”
The next step for the project group is implementation, however Ruapehu District Council, the district’s ratepayers and the region’s visitor sector operators do not have the size or revenue streams to do what is required on their own. The primary source of funding will need to come from local government; in addition central government funding is essential. A business case has been presented to MBIE outlining new opportunities to invest. Support from agencies such as New Zealand Transport Association (NZTA) is also needed.
“This is really where the Accelerate25 progamme comes to the fore, Accelerate25 demonstrates that we are working together as a region and therefore provides us with leverage when approaching central government agencies,” says Warren.
“When we implement these projects, the wider regional benefits will be significant, the Accelerate25 Lead Team understands this and their support and expertise is invaluable.”
“However we can’t get complacent, we need to keep pushing for funding from multiple revenues; there is a real risk of losing momentum as central government only set their budgets annually whereas we are looking for financial security until 2025.”
Warren believes that although there are risks involved, these can be planned for and managed.
“Ultimately this project is an exciting opportunity for our district and region, one that we cannot give up on as there is so much potential.”
“Ruapehu is a magical place and we are all incredibly proud to be building it into an unmissable visitor destination.”
More information on the Tourism and Visitor Services opportunity plus a fantastic video from Visit Ruapehu can be found here.