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Videojournalist Waikato, NZH Local Focus

Local Focus: Historic youth hostel under threat

For the last 46 years, the Wildish family have spent their holidays at the Opoutere Youth Hostel, 15 minutes north of Whangamata on the Coromandel Peninsula.

David Wildish remembers going to the hostel over Labour Weekend in 1971, with his mother for the very first time. He says it rained the entire weekend.

"My mother who is 93, was bringing her mother down here when she was 93 and she paid for the benches in the kitchen. And now my mother's great-grandchildren are coming here, so it's five generations of us that have been holidaying here for the last 46 years," David says.

"It's the time we have together to talk to think and enjoy ourselves," David's mother Ruth adds.

But those special times for the Wildish family and many others could be under threat, with the Youth Hostel Association (YHA) proposing closing it next March.

In a written statement Mark Wells, CEO of YHA said the Opoutere Hostel had been experiencing low visitor numbers for the last five years and with $352,000 needed to bring the hostel to compliance and quality standards, it would be unsustainable for the hostel to remain open.

"In the past five years, during the peak visitor period October to March, Opoutere occupancy has been less than half that of our network average. Sadly, Opoutere is not a destination that our guests and members visit," Mr Wells said.

But Ruth said that is no excuse because the hostel was never intended to make money.

"Theoretically city hostels and ones in resorts were to finance and help smaller hostels and of course there was a huge membership base and all the maintenance was done by members, painting, plumbing - everything was done from membership," Mrs Wildish said.

Her son David says there is a lot of community and international support from past and present visitors who have shared their messages of support to keep the hostel open on a campaign.

"We know that the opportunities haven't been fully investigated. There are other ways to raise the money to get support. There's nothing to say that within the YHA there can't be cross subsidisation," local resident Sally Evers says.

Mr Wildish says he has asked the YHA how much of a shortfall is needed for the hostel to break even but hasn't been provided with the numbers.

"We don't know those numbers, the thing is I've been told $150,000, $400,000, $500,000 over ten years.

"We do not know and the thing is, the most the hostel has lost... is $19,000 so we're talking maybe $20,000 dollars. How many bed nights is that? Can we do it?"

He says there could be more marketing of the hostel to encourage people to visit.

"We are within two hours of two million people so it's not actually that difficult to say 'hey there's something a little bit different' or just let the members know 'hey if you don't come here it's going to fall over'."

Ms Evers says there has been a lack of transparency between the Youth Hostel Association Board of trustees who she says should be acting in the interests of the members.

"I think it's part of a plan that doesn't value hostels for the things we and other members value them for. It seems as if the kaupapa of the organisation is to be the best backpackers in New Zealand, and that's a different concept from YHA."

Mr Wells insists the YHA has listened to the concerns of the members and allowed time for a consultation process.

"We acknowledge and respect that YHA Opoutere has been a very special location for many of our guests and staff over the years, so this decision to close is saddening. However, the Board has to balance decisions of the heart with its fiduciary duty obligations, which apply to the entire organisation," Mr Wells says.

Campaigners hope to delay any final decision about the hostel's future at the YHA's annual meeting in Wellington this weekend.

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- NZ Herald

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