Price hike suspended for residents

The Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony. Photo: Hamish MacLean
The Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony. Photo: Hamish MacLean
The Waitaki District Council has urged Tourism Waitaki to scrap price hikes for Waitaki residents viewing penguins at the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony and visiting Whitestone City as part of a second extended service agreement between the two parties.

At a meeting of the full council this week, councillors moved in favour of the extension, with a special condition.

That condition, moved by Cr Melanie Tavendale, was that price increases for Waitaki residents to enter the colony and Whitestone City that came into effect on October 1 be shelved until the extended service agreement ends on June 30, 2019.

Introduced earlier this year, the controversial move meant residents had to pay up to $45 for premium evening viewing during that period instead of $9. And instead of $5, local adults pay $20 for entry to Whitestone City between October 1 and March 31.

Tourism Waitaki general manager Margaret Munro told the Otago Daily Times at the time of the announcement "capacity issues" had prompted the change.

"Some nights ...  this summer we are already booked out. That’s why we’re trying to get the availability for visitors to be able to see the experience if they are only here for one night, whereas locals have got the opportunity to go year-round, really," she said.

"It seems silly to to say to visitors who visit here ‘No you can’t come and see them because we’ve got locals filling up the seats’. It’s just a common sense thing, really."

Meanwhile, a report tabled this week said "the organisation was not appropriately structured to deliver much of what the council wanted in an efficient and effective manner."

As a result, Tourism Waitaki announced last week that it had begun staff consultation about restructuring, which involved eight roles being disestablished and nine  roles created.

The organisation’s financial position was also questioned by the council.Tourism Waitaki posted an after-tax deficit of $61,512, compared with  a $48,416 surplus the previous year.

In the organisation’s annual report, Tourism Waitaki chairman Mike McElhinney attributed the loss to "over-projected revenue" for Victorian-themed  attraction Whitestone City. The attraction earned $80,055 in revenue for the year ended June 30.

The service agreement was extended so Tourism Waitaki could complete its planned staff restructure, which Mrs Munro said was driven by the need to employ staff that could enhance its digital presence to compete with other organisations.

It also allowed Tourism Waitaki to complete its review of the District Tourism Strategy.

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