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Rotorua’s Economic Development based on Blind Faith

Rotorua’s Economic Development based on Blind Faith and Guesstimates

Press Release: Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers, 19 July 2018
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The Mountain Biking in Whakarewarewa Forest Economic Impact Study (EIS) was accepted by the Strategy, Policy and Finance Committee of Council on 12 July. Deputy Mayor Dave Donaldson, leader the Council’s Economic Development portfolio, claimed that it “gives us a baseline for future impact assessment and will help guide decisions and planning.” The problem, according to the RDRR, is that the EIS is not ‘fit for purpose’ because it is poor research.

“An evaluation by ex-professor Reynold Macpherson found many flaws,” said RDRR chair Glenys Searancke. “It did not consider past best practice, prior research or refined knowledge about the economics of recreation, or sources of bias in data collection, which is especially important to mitigate the passionate beliefs of the ‘Lycra Lobby’ involved in the study.”

Most importantly, she said, the Regional Economic Impact Model, that used to estimate jobs and income from the estimated expenditure of mountain bikers, was not explained, and yet the EIS findings were accepted in blind faith for planning economic development.

“The significance of the findings was also undermined by the wide ranges of provisional estimates,” said Dr Macpherson. “Cr Bentley accurately described them as ‘guesstimates’. The findings were not related back to the practical and theoretical context, and limits to interpretation were not discussed. On the other hand, the report and its presentation to the SP&F Committee were clear and did emphasize the provisional nature of the findings.”

The greatest problem, he said, was that very few on Council had a critical awareness of the limitations of the EIS. His evaluation had been offered to trigger critical refection, and to encourage a research-based approach to tourism policy making in future. The Mayor, however, had referred the evaluation to officials and some councillors had played silly politics. The key point is, he said, that Council must adopt a reliable research methodology to create trustworthy knowledge for economic planning and decision making.

An alternative research-driven strategy was suggested, starting with a fresh Tourism Policy Advisory Board (TAPB), or its equivalent, appointing an economic research methodologist. The TAPB would commission studies of the practical and theoretical context of tourism economic development in Rotorua, identify key research questions, and contract expert research services, with officials providing project management. This approach could be replicated across other major sectors of the economy to achieve district-wide learning in the public good.

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