Sense of community district's best asset

Bringing a wealth of experience to her new role at Tourism Waitaki, business development manager Melanie Jones' enthusiasm for the district shines through. She was recently named a trustee of the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark Trust. Photo: Hamish MacLean
Bringing a wealth of experience to her new role at Tourism Waitaki, business development manager Melanie Jones' enthusiasm for the district shines through. She was recently named a trustee of the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark Trust. Photo: Hamish MacLean
Oamaru is the smallest town Melanie Jones has ever lived in.

But Mrs Jones, and her husband Trevor, are finding the adjustment to small town life ''amazingly'' easy.

''And do you know what it is? It's because it has such a strong sense of community,'' the new Tourism Waitaki business development manager said.

''I've never known anything like it. When you're in the corporate world you talk about 'We need to do more with the 'community' ... and it's very faceless. Whereas here, actually, people want to take time to talk to you.''

Originally from Glasgow, Scotland, Mrs Jones left Auckland to take on her new role in April after it was created in the regional tourism organisation's restructure at the start of this year.

As business development manager her focus is the council-controlled company's i-Site, Whitestone City, the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony and the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail.

After lengthy tenures at Fonterra, winery company Constellation Brands, and drinks company Diageo, in regional and global marketing roles, Mrs Jones has transitioned into the field of leadership development.

She said when people felt ''engaged and empowered and supported'' and they worked together, they could ''deliver some great things''.

''People often say 'come in fresh and don't lose those first thoughts' - because they're often the most powerful ones,'' Mrs Jones said.

When she put her hand up for the job, after about 11 years living in New Zealand, she had only been to the Waitaki district twice, first through Fonterra's ''open gates'' programme, then to give the Alps 2 Ocean a spin.

She was ''blown away'' by the district's beautiful countryside, restaurants, and wine.

On that trip, she also ''discovered'' Vanished World - the nearly-two-decades-old institution that is at the centre of the district's hope to become the first Unesco global geopark in Australasia.

This month, along with Christchurch architect Gerald Carter, and Waitaki community stalwarts Helen Jansen and Gloria Hurst, she was named one of four new Waitaki Whitestone Geopark trustees to join Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher, Te Runanga o Moeraki upoko David Higgins and Vanished World Trust chairman Mike Gray, who established the trust last year.

The planned geopark, Mrs Jones said, could help the district realise its tourism potential.

hamish.maclean@odt.co.nz

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