The Methven i-SITE is closing. Image: EMC
Experience Mid Canterbury is shutting its doors with the loss of all seven employees and the closure of the i-SITE centre at Methven.
The district tourism organisation, which has been operating in one form or another for at least 20 years, has had its funding from Ashburton District Council cut in half due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It is the first of what could be a number of closures of smaller RTOs or similar bodies across the country as local authority funding dries up and international tourists are unable to visit.
All five staff at the i-SITE and two others at EMC, including general manager Bruce Moffatt, would be made redundant.
EMC chair James Urquhart said much of the remaining $195,000 funding would go towards a new partnership with ChristchurchNZ to promote Mid Canterbury. One staff member from EMC could apply for a new role with the partnership.
“These are extraordinary and unprecedented times, and changing EMC’s operation including the i-SITE closure was a very difficult decision for us to make,” Urquhart said.
“Visitor numbers to the i-SITE were declining in the months prior to Covid-19, and the subsequent closure of New Zealand’s borders only further signified that our current operation needed to change.”
The latest i-SITE shuttering follows closures across Waitaki and Central Otago.
Urquhart said the council was exploring other options to provide an information service at Methven.
For marketing the district, Mid Canterbury would benefit from shared marketing spend with ChristchurchNZ and could capitalise on multi-district campaigns.
“Technically, we will save one job but they will be working under ChristchurchNZ,” Urquhart said.
“They will be in the Mid Canterbury region anywhere between three and four days between Methven, Ashburton and Rakaia and between one and two days a week in the ChristchurchNZ office ensuring strategies and campaigns go ahead. It’s a compromise to be fair but it’s not a bad one.”
ChristchurchNZ had a similar partnership with the Mackenzie district’s marketing body, MackenzieNZ.
“Potentially there could be other regions around here that could be looking at similar options,” Urquhart said.
The catalyst for the restructuring was the reduction of EMC’s council funding by half to $195,000 for FY21 because the local authority wanted to cut a rates increase from 4.88% to 2.5% to help the region cope with the impact of Covid-19.
“Everyone is hitting the reset button right now and asking what is the best return for the ratepayer, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater?” Urquhart said.
“For local councils, the pressure is on them to reduce rates. We as an organisation have to be mature about it – we are representing the ratepayer – and ask, what else can we do?”
Urquhart said EMC had been around for at least 20 years as a trust or council-controlled organisation.
“It’s extremely sad for us to say goodbye to our staff but we are still pleased to have another opportunity with ChristchurchNZ.”
Tourism spend in the Mid Canterbury region reached close to $200m by the end of 2019, up from $185m in 2018.
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