CEO’s parting shot at critics

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In an exit interview with Philip Chandler, Destination Queenstown CEO Graham Budd fires shots at unconstructive criticism of the resort’s growth. He takes a tilt at NZ Transport Agency, too, but also pinpoints his highlights, and his reasons for moving to Invercargill

Destination Queenstown’s CEO’s bit back at people bashing the resort, particularly those who’ve benefited from its growth.

Graham Budd, who finished on January 24 after nearly eight years in the role, says while the community’s benefited from substantial visitor, resident and development growth, some have struggled with some of the impacts of that growth – “and, frankly, our infrastructure has not kept up with that foreseeable growth”.

But, he believes some of those expressing their frustration have been “unduly negative, not constructive”.

“It’s been based around an aggressive approach to our local agencies and our council.

“It’s not constructive or helpful in a community trying to find solutions to issues.

“It’s got personal at times, and I think it’s been very unfortunate.

“We’ve been on the end of that, as well, when we were looking for funding increases.

“I’ve been disappointed and saddened by some of the people involved in that who typically have made their money here or benefited from this community and have reached a different life stage and want things to be the same as they were.”

Budd also says it’s “ridiculous” for people to link Queenstown and ‘overtourism’ in the same breath as places like Barcelona, Rome or Paris.

“We have nothing like that issue.

“None of this is to dismiss the concerns about climate change and the environmental impact of travel, but kicking our own community in the shins around this isn’t helpful or constructive.

“By most global standards, Queenstown is still a tiny wee place, and the visitor numbers we have, while they’re reasonably substantial, are still, in my view as a resident, not just from a professional perspective, perfectly manageable, apart from some transport issues.

“Again, this isn’t saying we don’t have issues and environmental impacts we need to mitigate.

“So, when people have the solutions, rather then just firing the shots, we’ll be in a much better place.”

Budd, who joined DQ as general manager marketing almost 13 years ago, says he’s in no doubt the resort’s a better place than when he arrived.

“The growth of services, retail facilities, as well as our air connectivity and digital connectivity, has enabled this to be a place where more and more people want to live.”

Though some consider the resort’s over-reliant on tourism, he says it’s in fact been a catalyst for other sector growth.

Asked why he’s leaving for Invercargill to head Southland’s regional development agency, Great South, Budd says there wasn’t one driver.

“I’ve had quite a decent tenure here, and all organisations and CEOs need to refresh from time to time.

“And that time for me came when I felt the organisation was in good shape, and after getting the [extra $900,000] funding we needed to deliver what was required, I was able to say,

“Completely coincidentally, the role at Great South came up, and it appealed to me for its broader mandate.”

While nominating the extra funding, and two rebranding and repositioning exercises, as highlights, Budd’s successful advocacy for a visitor levy, now in the pipeline, may be his biggest legacy.

After studying the issue, he concluded “it was unfair our residents had to be paying for infrastructure to support visitor growth and, secondly – and ironically, given the conflict with some of my accommodation business – it would relieve the rate and cost burden on our accommodation providers”.

On the other side of the ledger, Budd’s disappointed, at a community and destination level, that a conference centre didn’t get the green light during his stint.

“That remains a significant and important opportunity for Queenstown.”

If he had a wish, it’s that government agencies like highway operator NZ Transport Agency and Immigration NZ were more responsive to the resort.

“It’s my view that NZTA, over many years, has seriously under-invested in our region, and that continues to be the case.”

Likewise, constantly-changing Immigration NZ settings had been detrimental to local businesses employing foreign labour, “and that’s hugely disappointing”.

Budd says he’s had “great relationships” with his board members, while his “incredible staff” had been his highlight at DQ.

“The passion and commitment and capacity of everybody who’s worked here has been incredible.”

scoop@scene.co.nz