Moves to shut down the iSite not wise.
A number of times last year the Mayor King led the move to close the iSite office, in favour of "digital" tourism solutions. This year the topic will come up again. Council will need to make a decision.
Will we be the only major NZ centre without an iSite? I hope not!
Should the iSite be relocated and resized? Yes.
And here's why:
- Tourism is important in the Waikato, worth $1.5 billion to the economy and $872m to Hamilton,
- Tourism is increasing and the use of iSites by tourists continues to grow despite smart phone use,
- Hamilton City is investing into assets that will attract more tourists such as; the Riverside developments, Lake Waiwhakareke, the Zoo and, let us not forget the jewel in the crown the Hamilton Gardens,
- Hamilton invests into attracting events and conferences (as it should),
- Quite simply, we need visitors to come, stay a few nights and spend some money like every thriving city does,
- We want those who attend conferences here to stick around and explore.
The costs and benefits of the iSite have been clear in a comprehensive review carried out in August 2019.
- use of the iSite brand and the promotion through Tourism New Zealand
- centrally coordinated advertising through Tourism New Zealand that literally puts Hamilton on the map internationally ( using Google maps, CamperMate and the Tourism NZ App)
- better supplier rates and tourism booking contracts
- face to face advise and easy booking (are staff some of our best city ambassadors? I'd say so)
So do people today only rely on their phones? Well I don't. 9/10 time I personally like to talk with tourism experts when I travel. That aside, the evidence is mixed and shows that while tourists do use digital apps, they also use brochures, radio and enjoy personal contact when booking accommodation.
The review showed that there were efficiencies that could and should be made through relocating the iSite, proposing a few sites for consideration. Two that have merit in both the report and my view is at the Waikato Museum or Artspost.
Imagine, a smaller iSite located in a prime tourist attraction, on the banks of the Waikato River and so near to the soon to be constructed Theatre and the planned improvements of The River Plan. Imagine the tourists having access to creations of local artisans as souvenirs as well as museum souvenirs. Imagine tourists having access to the hospitality of the CBD, strolling down to the jetty, past the riverside art of Toia Mai, boarding the Waikato River Explorer to the Hamilton Gardens or hiring a ebike to ride there.
This is not the stuff of dreams. This is a practical way to showcase the city, to be good ambassadors and improving the cost effectiveness of the iSite service. It sends a message; we are open for business and we have good things to offer, let's show you.
Maybe one day we will do everything by phone. But are we there yet? Is it leadership to be the only major centre without a warm welcome? Is this too soon? Look out for a further discussion on this in March.
Meanwhile your views, as always, are welcome and considered.