Qualmark boss waits for big tick

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Endorsement hinges on inquiries.

Queenstown adventure oper­ators guilty of malpractice face losing their Qualmark accreditation.

That’s the warning from Geoff Penrose, boss of the official tourism endorsement operation.

“[Safety] is a component of [accreditation]. Any outcome which shows those standards weren’t right, or the processes weren’t right, would be something we’d take very seriously.”

Three local adventure companies, one Qualmark-ed and the other two not, face official investigations over separate fatal accidents.

Qualmark wannabe Mad Dog River Surfing sought accreditation after the April 2008 death of English tourist Emily Jordan, Penrose says.

The company and owner Brad McLeod now face court charges brought by Maritime New Zealand.

“In the case of Mad Dog, who looked at forwarding an application to us, we stated to [McLeod] we’d wait until he’s actually gone through the legal proceedings,” Penrose says.

The two other operators are Kawarau Jet – fully “endorsed” by Qualmark – and Skytrek Tandem Hang Gliding, featured on the associated newzealand.com website.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission is investigating the September 2008 flip of a Kawarau jetboat that killed Chinese passenger. Driver Ian Morgan separately faces court charges brought by MNZ.

The Civil Aviation Authority is investigating a double fatality in March when a Skytrek pilot and his passenger were killed.

Has Qualmark considered suspending operators pending official investigations?

“It’s a good question,” Penrose says.

Qualmark policy assumes a licensed operator is innocent until proven guilty so they’ll “wait for the outcomes of those investigations”.

Without referring to Kawarau, however, he adds that the reputation of NZ tourism and Qualmark could be “tarnished” if a cowboy hid behind the Government-sponsored organisation’s seal of approval while investigations ran their course.

Qualmark pledges to the world: “Businesses that carry the Qualmark have met quality standards in safety, facilities, equipment, customer service and more.”

Yet “we do allow for the principle of natural justice,” Penrose says.

If official investigations found “a system error” where Qualmark had been assured “processes were in place”, then “we’d be able to remove the [Qualmark] licence” – “because they had a duty of care to [do] what they said they were going to do”.

Alternatively if investigations found robust procedures had been breached by a rogue staffer, that might be different.

An operator suffers if Qualmark cancels accreditation – particularly “if they see themselves operating very strongly in the international market”, Penrose says.

“There are some very strong consequences [in losing the Qualmark].”

If official investigations sanction an operator, Qualmark first “reassesses” the firm before considering cancellation.