Marketing the City and Region
Ours is a city with an unparalleled history in New Zealand, but it’s slowly disappearing from the map. All towns are competing for people and resources – I want to put us back on an equal footing.
July’s national survey showed that 75 per cent of respondents either knew nothing about the Wanganui region or felt that it wasn't worth a visit. In fact, awareness of the region was twice as poor as in the same survey two years ago. We need to do something about these figures if we’re to attract people and business. At present Wanganui is known for most of the wrong reasons. This image is no doubt affecting people's decisions to settle here or set up businesses here.
This town is truly unique! I’ve lived in six other cities in New Zealand and can appreciate all the good things that Whanganui has to offer. Obviously we need to be progressive and offer facilities such as high-speed broadband, but our point of difference is our history. Few cities in New Zealand can boast such a rich past as Wanganui. Our combination of features and civic amenities is unrivalled – heritage buildings, Maori cultural heritage, Sarjeant Art Gallery, Royal Whanganui Opera House, Whanganui Regional Museum, trams, Waimarie paddle steamer, Ward Observatory, Port of Wanganui, Bushy Park, Durie Hill Tower and Lift, Whanganui River, Whanganui National Park, Virginia Lake and now our new arts focus, etc. We need to look back to our past for the inspiration to look forward. We need to market our points of difference.
Adelaide, a city of 1.2 million, sees itself as competing against the other larger Australian cities and that it needs 10 points of interest/difference to do that. Whanganui has at least ten and they need to be marketed as a total package.
Attracting Visitors, more Residents and Businesses --> Economic Growth
Motel occupancy rates in May were a poor 33 per cent. By comparison, the figure for both Manawatu and Taranaki was 49 per cent – that’s the difference between viability and going out of business. June's statistics are just out and they're even worse - 28 per cent for Wanganui versus 43 per cent for Manawatu and 53 per cent for Taranaki. Manawatu and Taranaki attract three times as many visitors as Wanganui, despite the fact that Palmerston North, for example, has few of the attractions that we can offer. I wouldn't be surprised if national media coverage of our "odour" problem isn't starting to have an effect.
The relative size of each economy is not enough to explain this difference in visitor numbers. As a city, we are simply not doing all we can to promote ourselves and the July image survey proves that.
We have a good i-site but it takes up almost the entire budget for marketing and is only useful to visitors once they are here. We need to market effectively outside the city and to commit the appropriate resources to do this. We need to recognise that all towns in New Zealand are competing for visitors, people, businesses and resources. It needs to be weighed against extra infrastructure spend as to which provides more benefit to the city and region.
If we succeed in attracting domestic and international visitors by getting our image right, this can in turn attract more residents and businesses. These two target groups will of course require their own specific strategies.
And we need to look at keeping the people we have now. Lack of work prospects is the main issue. We need to get more inventive, but more visitors, residents and businesses are key. Council is not in the business of private enterprise, but it should act as a conduit, a catalyst, a facilitator for the sake of this city and region and all who live and work here.
On the education opportunities front, developments at UCOL are of concern. I’m hearing of significant contractions which I will need to look into further.
Communicating and Working Together
There are many disparate groups in this city, working with good intentions and often successfully. But what my many discussions over the past two months have made clear is that there is so much more scope for working together. One simple example is that moteliers complain of is not having comprehensive lists all of the events on in town, or discount coupons to hand to their guests. I hear of so many opportunities missed.
There are individuals here doing lots of good work but with little help. Better communication is key to resolving the issues and seizing those opportunities. This is where Council should take a greater co-ordination role.
Keeping Rates Fair while Reducing Debt
The City’s debt has increased by over 150 per cent since the impact of borrowing for the waste- and storm-water schemes made itself felt in 2005, while rates rose just over 50 per cent. And this is without factoring in current plant repairs and earthquake strengthening of buildings. Even with higher rate levels the debt burden has ballooned.
But we can't keep rates artificially low and then find we need to borrow to make up the shortfall. While borrowing for special needs is sometimes the only real alternative, there’s no doubt that debt has got out of hand and we need to find ways to better manage and reduce it.
We need to review how we spend rates dollars.We also need to give equal attention to the other side of the coin which is to increase revenue - and I'm not talking about bumping up rates. We can do so by focussing on heritage, on cultural and arts tourism and also by encouraging more people to make Wanganui their home. Potential candidates are Auckland retirees, young entrepreneurs whose business can be located in a central NZ location and who can’t afford to buy and live in Auckland. We have the infrastructure here to support more residents. Debt reduction by itself rarely if ever works and is often counterproductive. The debt and rates issues must be tackled from more than one angle.
Effective, Targeted Spend
I spent 10 years in the marketing research industry for which the saying is “If you define the problem correctly, you’re halfway there”. I haven’t had all the problems or issues defined and so I don’t yet have all or necessarily the right solutions.
But I hear examples of overspend, of wastage and equally of shortcuts and inadequate monitoring, for example with our wastewater system. Question: how did chromium levels ever get to be 17 times the maximum allowable level?
I’m just as concerned about mis-allocation of resources – whether we’ve got our priorities properly sorted and therefore the right mix. All expenditure needs to on the table and subject to challenge.
Give me the opportunity to represent you and I’ll ask the hard questions, find out the facts and then act!
(See next pages Debt and Rates and also Amalgamation? for more perspective.)
Authorised by Martin Visser: 6A Willis Street, Wanganui.