Orokonui fee labelled unfair

A new charge at the Orokonui Ecosanctuary is angering a tour operator who claims the fee discriminates against her customers.

Orokonui has made it compulsory for visitors on cruise-ship tours to pay a minimum of $5, for staff members to show a 15-minute educational DVD and talk about the ecosanctuary.

It kept a register of tour members and invoiced operators fortnightly.

Orokonui general manager Chris Baillie said the charge only applied to people on paid tours which targeted cruise-ship passengers and included the ecosanctuary in marketing.

Ms Baillie said it affected fewer than 20% of visitors to the ecosanctuary and there was no intention of charging individuals, most of whom were Dunedin residents.

''This charge is just for cruise-ship tour operators that include Orokonui in their itinerary. They are using Orokonui to help sell their tours.

''We are charging $5 per head for the talk and DVD, because we want visitors' experience of Orokonui to be meaningful - we want them to know what the ecosanctuary is about and what we are doing here,'' she said.

It was a way for visitors to contribute to the facility, which would be less reliant on grants as a result, she said.

Ms Baillie said the $5 fee was ''tiny'' and she did not think it would deter visitors or stop tour operators including Orokonui in their itineraries.

At present, four operators used Orokonui, two of which had signed its cruise-ship tour operator agreement, she said. Only one operator had opposed the charge, Ms Baillie said.

That person contacted the Otago Daily Times saying the charge was discriminatory and unfair.

The tour operator asked to remain anonymous to protect her business.

She said it did not make sense to charge cruise-ship passengers on paid tours $5 to visit Orokonui's visitor area, cafe and gift shop - where others could go for free.

''It seems unreasonable for tourists off a cruise ship to be charged for a compulsory minimum tour option when any other tourist or local is not forced to take a minimum tour option; they can simply look around and have a great coffee if they wish.''

The operator said 75% of her customers spent money in the cafe and gift shop, and Orokonui was driving people, and business, away.

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