Victorian attraction failed to meet targets


March 21, 2020 - 162 views

Oamaru tourism attraction Whitestone City was opened with an ‘‘overly ambitious’’ business plan that meant it was unable to survive in the current climate, Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher says.

The Victoria-themed interactive attraction in Harbour St closed yesterday, with the loss of up to six jobs.

Tourism Waitaki’s decision followed years of financial losses and the ongoing effect of the Covid-19 outbreak, which has caused the number of tourists visiting North Otago to plummet.

Tourism Waitaki general manager Margaret Munro said the decision to shut the attraction was ‘‘not taken lightly’’.

‘‘The slowing in international visitors throughout 2019, added with the exceptional circumstances of coronavirus, have exposed the business’s already fragile financial state,’’ she said in a statement.

‘‘Even in light of the Covid-19 business support package announced [on Tuesday], the long-running financial strife of Whitestone City cannot be singularly claimed as a result of Covid-19, making it ineligible to claim the wage subsidy support.

‘‘With the likelihood of coronavirus being disruptive in the tourism sector for some months to come, the Tourism Waitaki board have made the hard decision that Whitestone City cannot remain open and weather the storm.’’

Staff were ‘‘at the forefront of our minds and we will be assessing if there are possible redeployment opportunities for them and supporting them through this process”, alongside the Public Service Association, she said.

Whitestone City’s financial history included a $134,265 loss in the six months to December 31, 2018 and Tourism Waitaki’s report for the first half of the 2017-18 financial year showed it earned $34,584 against a budgeted figure of $140,000.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said the attraction’s failure was partly due to a business plan that was ‘‘optimistic in some areas where it probably shouldn’t have been’’.

‘‘I don’t think they ever met the targets for numbers of tourists. It was based on quite strong growth in the early stages and that just didn’t come through. The business plan it was based on was probably overly ambitious.

‘‘Obviously, it’s been the latter events which have really affected them as badly as it has.’’

Tourism Waitaki board chairman Mike McElhinney said the organisation was ‘‘carefully monitoring the impact on our other main tourist operations in light of the recent developments’’.

daniel.birchfield@odt.co.nz

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