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Perspectives: Are RTOs the right fit for our DMPs?

11 Aug 2022  By Contributor

Destination management has gradually been taken under the wings of regional tourism organisations but they are not resourced to take on such a major job, writes former marketing general manager for YHA, Brian Westwood.

Tourism New Zealand is not lumbered with destination management so why should RTOs be?

The old arguments around visitor taxes and restrictions have resurfaced before we start to see any serious numbers return. In the middle of this stoush sit the RTOs, mainly because they are now responsible for destination management.

RTOs haven’t created this shift, they are responding to it and doing it well for the most part. They are doing the hard yards and deserve our respect and acknowledgement of the value they bring to our destinations every day.

Brian Westwood

Traditional RTO business remains the marketing and economic development work that can’t be done by individual businesses. It is public good investment on the principle that the visitor industry is fundamentally positive for the communities they serve.

But we should question why RTOs are being lumbered with destination management work. Tourism New Zealand doesn’t do this at a national level so why do we expect our RTOs to do it at a local level?

There has been little push back to the subtle and slow shift of RTOs to destination management organisations. It’s a global phenomenon and become an expectation. Yet most sit outside of council processes and are given limited extra resources to do the job.

There are a number of fundamental issues that need to be addressed.

  1. RTOs are not designed for enduring destination management practices. For starters, they have no authority to manage community assets.
  2. RTOs are being stretched beyond any reasonable expectations. We have to acknowledge at some point enough is enough. The divergence of focus cannot be good for overall performance.
  3. The investment to get this done is pitiful. $47m over two years to 30 RTOs sounds a lot but is small compared to the scope of work required. Destination management plans, done properly, are complex, multifaceted and enduring plans for the whole community.
  4. Central government has abdicated its responsibility to RTOs. In complete contrast to other government initiatives, tourism planning has been decentralised. Layers upon layers of duplication, waste and bureaucracy will ensue on issues that are clearly national in nature, like bed taxes.
  5. There is no ongoing funding. RTOs now have to go through the next phases of implementation on their own and find ways to fund it. Like targeted rates and voluntary financing.
  6. Most RTOs will always struggle to embed comprehensive destination management systems into council processes. Core local authority systems and processes are essential to creating an enduring way of thinking about visitor impacts and benefits.
  7. Where does the democratic process fit in? What mandate do RTOs have to determine community infrastructure responses to the visitor industry?

These are not criticisms of RTOs and it is important to make that point. RTOs are worth the investment. It’s the relaxed, unchallenged stroll into a completely new discipline that RTOs have been asked to take that deserves a rethink.


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