High hopes hang on this golden head

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He plans to do ‘wonderfully well’ – Destination Queenstown’s new boss talks to Philip Chandler.

Mountain Scene  You’re in your first week – what’s your priority?

 Stephen Pahl  I’m going to be spending a lot of time over the next couple of weeks getting a clear understanding of the [marketing] strategies presently in place. I’ll be doing a reality check on how they’re carrying to market and make an assessment of the ongoing change and positioning of the market. I think we have to be highly innovative and we’ve got to be a very tight, united unit. One of my priorities is to engage almost immediately with the airlines, including Jetstar.

 MS  The biggest concern is tourism’s going to be stuffed from April on. What can DQ do?

 SP  I’m not going to sit here and claim I’ve got any short-term solutions to the problems we’re facing now. The thing I do want to say to industry is look, we all need to roll up our sleeves, keep the wind in our sails and weather this as best we can.

 MS  Any pressure being an outsider, an Aussie?

SP  The fact I’m an Aussie, I hope no one’s going to hold that against me. If you look around the place, there are a lot of key people who are maybe Europeans, Americans or Irish. I’m here to do a job, I’ll do it wonderfully well. I’m a Kiwi now. I’m here for the long-haul. People have told me you’ve got to be here, 15 years is it, before you’re a local – we need to review that.

MS  Any tips on tapping the Aussie market?

SP  I do have a very, very good knowledge of the distribution channels into that market. There are a lot of Australians who don’t realise to get to New Zealand is no longer than flying from Brisbane to Melbourne.

MS  Taken a pay cut for this job?

SP  I don’t discuss my salary. But can I say I have never even thought of beginning a job unless I had a passion and a love for what I was doing and the region I’m in. For a regional tourism manager, you’ve really got to live the dream and you’ve got to live the region and I sort of, much to my wife’s disgust, put that as being more important than salary.

MS  How hard will it be working with your number two [Graham Budd] considering he applied for your job?

SP  That is of absolutely no consequence. From what I understand, he has done a wonderful job. In my world, there is no number one and number two – we’re all on the same wavelength. It’s just that I’ve got the hard end of the stick where sometimes I have to make the hard decisions and I have to report to the board.

MS  People are already calling you ‘Warney’ [after ex-Aussie cricket great Shane Warne].

SP  I always used to get called Jason Akermanis, he used to play [AFL] for the Brisbane Lions. Look, I’m a bit worried about getting called ‘Warney’ – I can assure you I’ve only got one mobile phone, I don’t text very much, I don’t involve myself in lascivious activities and I also don’t play cricket.

MS  Oh, and what’s for lunch?

SP  I’m a lover of Japanese food.

MS  That’s good to know.

 

Paying his dues

New Destination Queenstown boss Stephen Pahl lists his “entire career” as his biggest job highlight – and he’s had impressive track gallops at that.

This “late 40s” Aussie has spent more than 25 years in tourism. Starting out as a trainee hotel manager in Cairns, Pahl worked his way up to take control of some major Australian tourism organisations.

Before joining DQ, he had been boss of Ecotourism Australia since 2002, where he transformed a low-profile entity into a major national organisation. He helped introduce a world-first certification programme – the number of certified operators increased by 400 per cent in six years.

Ecotourism Australia won the World Travel & Tourism Council “Tourism for Tomorrow” Award for Conservation at the World Tourism Summit in Dubai last year.

Tasmanian environmentalist Peter Power, who last year lobbied Pahl for action over a controversial forestry plant, says Pahl is “very proactive and professional”.

“He has his heart in the right place.”

Pahl has also headed Capricorn Tourism in Queensland, managed marketing for Queensland’s Dolphin Heads Resort and been a manager within Australian Coachlines Holdings. “I think the way my career has unfolded is really commensurate with my quest to be challenged,” says Pahl.

Pahl’s wife Deborah joins him in March after selling her Brisbane florist business. Son Liam, 13, is due next week before starting Wakatipu High and daughter Danica, 17, will remain in Brisbane to attend university.