October 8, 2021

Hamilton’s i-SITE visitor center loses money, under pressure

Hamilton i-SITE loses about $ 500,000 a year, advisers have heard.

TOM LEE / STUFF

Hamilton i-SITE loses about $ 500,000 a year, advisers have heard.

Hamilton i-SITE could be put on formal notice.

Mayor Andrew King has recommended shutting down the visitor information service, a move that would save city council about $ 5.6 million over the next 10 years.

King offered to train council staff to take over, as well as setting up brochure stands at selected sites in the city.

Mayor Andrew King proposed to shut down i-SITE to save council money and move the service to council reception.

CHRISTEL YARDLEY / STUFF

Mayor Andrew King proposed to shut down i-SITE to save council money and move the service to council reception.

But the debate stirred councilors at Tuesday’s meeting and now they want to give the drop-in center six months to find a way to break even.

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There was talk of cowboys, not having guts and doing an absurd move as advisers decide what should go into the long-term plan.

“I-SITE is the only franchise I know of you are joining to lose money,” King said.

Most don’t make a profit, he said, the smartphone is a game-changer and he has questions about the model.

He wanted to integrate the information and advice service for visitors to the city with the reception of advice and staff training.

“Pick it up and move it to reception and save between $ 500,000 and $ 800,000 per year,” he said.

He also expected i-SITE staff to be part of Hamilton City Council.

He called an alternate suggestion “weak as water” and said another delayed the inevitable and chewed up another half a million dollars in the meantime.

Cr Angela O’Leary made an effort to continue the service, but reported on new revenue opportunities or new business models.

“This is our welcome mat,” she said.

“They are our face in Hamilton. They say hello and welcome to us – that’s what we have.”

O’Leary’s amendment was defeated 5-7, but a similar move from Cr Mark Bunting was passed.

Councilors voted 10-2 to give i-SITE six months to report on what it could change to break even.

Council could get more from i-SITE and from every visitor, Bunting said, and it gives time to explore that.

Closing i-SITE doesn’t make sense when the board invests in making Hamilton fun to visit, said Cr Geoff Taylor.

“With all due respect, there is a cowboy element to this proposal. I can’t support something that right away – bang, like that – is going to make Hamilton… one of the few places without i- SITE, ”he said.

The report clause signaled councilors wanted fairly swift action, he said.

Cr Leo Tooman agreed, saying places like Te Aroha and Huntly had i-SITES, but the largest city in Waikato offered not to.

It’s a service to the public, he says.

Maybe the i-SITE could be in the central library in the future, Cr Siggi Henry said.

But closing the site was an obvious call to Cr Garry Mallett, who called it an outdated delivery model.

He said fellow councilors were in the-la-land and lacked the courage to make a call that would save taxpayers’ money.

And Cr Dave Macpherson pointed out that keeping the center open would add half a million losses to the budget.

Councilors voted 7-5 for the amendment, but more moved to support it 10-2 when it became the motion.

Deputy Mayor Martin Gallagher and Cr Garry Mallett voted against – although Gallagher later said he accidentally voted wrong, much to the amusement of the other councilors.

The decision will be incorporated into the draft long-term plan and will be subject to public consultation.


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