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A former mayor’s change of heart helped the survival of Destination Queenstown, which today marks its 25th anniversary as an incorporated society. 

Stuart Maclean, co-founder of DQ – originally Queenstown Promotion Bureau – recalls late-’80s mayor John Davies initially pooh-poohed an idea to fund the marketing body via a compulsory levy on commercial ratepayers.
Davies – nowadays a major tourism player – changed his mind after discussions with the DQ board. 

“We had to fund it somehow and I never felt it was something that residential ratepayers should have to fund,” Davies says. 

Former longtime DQ chief executive David Kennedy says that funding model, suggested by former local accountant Mike Ross and hotelier Geoff Johnson, is the envy of other regional promotion organisations throughout New Zealand and overseas. 

“It’s a model that could probably only work in a resort town where generally most businesses would benefit from tourism.” 

Kennedy, who spent 10 years in charge before departing in 2008, says DQ funding spiralled from $900,000 a year to about $3 million during his reign. 

Maclean says running DQ before the levy was brought in was “a heck of a job”. 

“We had a voluntary membership, but too many people would take the option of not being members so we were always fundraising,” he says. 

Former administrator Hilary Finnie recalls: “Around half our time was spent getting funds to pay us and hope there was some left over for promotion. 

“For the first year or two, board members plodded the streets, getting businesses in their sector to sign up,” she says. 

One of DQ’s early achievements was to get the country’s first exemption to the Shop Trading Hours Act to enable trading 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Local lawyer Graeme Todd spent “huge numbers of free hours on it,” Finnie says. 

“One of the funnies from the hearings was the commissioner asking [then hardware shop manager] Phil Wilson if he felt it was necessary to have an exemption. 

“Phil says, definitely, he’d been thinking about having midnight sales – and the following week he had one.”
Maclean: “It wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t have a cohesive body – look at Wanaka’s problems today [over Easter trading].” 

The resort was the number two tourism destination to Rotorua when DQ started, Maclean says. 

“DQ can’t take all the credit for Queenstown now being number one, but it can take some.”
New chief executive Tony Everitt says DQ’s always been at the forefront of NZ’s regional tourism organisation scene. 

“Our challenge for the next 25 years will be to maintain that.”