“I think it’s easy to look back over the last several months and feel like we’ve been treading water but when you stop to think about it, we’ve actually ticked off some significant pieces of work which will leave us in a really good position now that we’ve started to prepare for the visitors to return.”
Meet Andrew Wilson, a self-professed ‘glass is half-full sort of guy.’ He joined Rotorua Economic Development (which is both the RTO and EDA for the district) as the chief executive shortly after the Covid-19 pandemic reached New Zealand’s shores. The crippling effect of the pandemic is said to have brought the country’s number one tourist destination and Rotorua’s third-largest income earner to its knees.
“When I came into this role 12 months ago, I took the view that the environment was going to be shifting pretty rapidly so there was a degree of ‘we’re going to have to ensure we’ve got an organisation which is agile and able to respond quickly,’ so that’s the lens we’ve applied.”
With Rotorua’s tourism economy under major threat due to lack of visitors, the RED team rapidly adapted to meet the needs of the local business community.
“We’ve certainly had a strong focus on trying to think and see through the pandemic to the other side. We’re looking at what that means to this destination overall and how we can ensure that we’ve used this time to rethink how the destination operates.”
The recent development of the Rotorua Destination Management Plan speaks volumes in terms of Andrew’s persistence that iwi and the wider community must be engaged in the work that RED does. Equally important is the need to land on common goals and aspirations across the four wellbeings.
“Within the Destination Management Plan is a really ambitious set of actions which we can absolutely say hand on heart are the right ones for Rotorua. They’re tailored to this place and people, which is ultimately what is most important.”
Andrew has also been incessant about working to address the city’s housing issues. He takes a broad approach in terms of navigating this space and earlier this year he sought approval from Rotorua Lakes Council to extend RED’s role to include transformational place-making projects.
“It’s all about rejuvenating our inner-city at the same time addressing the issue around lack of houses. I think we’ve made some better progress in terms of having a sensible discussion about what levers we can actually pull as an organisation so the additional mandate to be able to look at how we facilitate inner city living, for example, which has spin-off benefits to the tourism sector and wider visitor industry.
“Ultimately what we’re after is a vibrant inner city and the best way to have a vibrant inner city is to have people living there. Every big city in the world has that kind of feeling.”
In the midst of responding to the impact of the pandemic, and helping to address issues associated with housing, RED has also been involved in a significant piece of work that is aimed to enhance the place brand of Rotorua.
“We’ve taken the time to have a real good look at the place brand for Rotorua to make sure it actually speaks of and to this place.
“It’s unique, it’s clearly identifiable, it’s really cool. It feels like it’s got a foot in the past in terms of referencing who we were but it also has a nod to the future in that we’re actually a modern and vibrant destination. I really believe it will leave us in a great position as we start to think about our marketing campaigns and how we present the destination overall. That’s going to be a really exciting journey over the next couple of years as we see it come to life.”
Looking forward, Andrew is optimistic and believes Rotorua is really well positioned to capitalise on the return of visitors.
“I’ve been super impressed by businesses that have taken the opportunity to pause and reinvest or rethink their delivery, there’s been a lot of innovation and some exciting new projects in the pipeline. It’s really encouraging to see change in the hospitality sector with new businesses opening recently.
“To me those are signs of regrowth, an indicator that everyone’s starting to look more optimistically to the future.”