There's no pulling the wool over Di's eyes

Qualmark catches up with Tourism Business Advisor Di Harris as she clocks up the Ks to finish her West Coast South Island assessments for the year.

Di’s in Hokitika when we call, having just done an evaluation.  She was in Greymouth the previous day and is heading back again straight away.

“I’m all over the place, that’s part of the job. I set the trip meter on the car three weeks ago.  It’s at 2552.7 kilometres and I still have four days’ travel to go.  I have been down to Christchurch, across Arthur's to Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, and then I’ll be heading back to Nelson.”

“I try and do two assessments a day, sometimes that is not possible with travel times."

“It’s so busy down in Fox and Franz.  When I was down there it was buzzing, everyone was happy, the sun was shining and the helicopters were flying."

At Franz Josef Di visited Rainforest Retreat where they have just built some new tree houses.  “They’re up on stilts so you are in the forest and you park underneath.  They deliver you a breakfast basket every morning – it’s the little touches.  It’s a very special spot.  Anyone who gets to experience it is very lucky.

“I’ve been doing this job for so long and know people so well.  I’m no longer called ‘the inspector’.  I’m just Di.  You don’t want them to be frightened of the visits."

“There is so much paperwork in this role. It’s huge. The report writing is what takes the time.  Every property is unique, there is no template.  I write customised reports for each.  I score while I’m doing the assessment then write a draft report that night.  You can’t get behind on these trips as you’ll never remember everything at the end of it."

“I always have a night or two between writing the report and reading it again and sending it – it gives time to digest and make sure the assessment is fair and valid."

“I’ll see 240-250 properties a year.  I’m away from home for a good six months, which has its challenges.  I certainly never feel sorry for myself though, it’s an amazing role."

“A lot of businesses use our visits for a spring clean, which is great as in this industry you get so busy you sometimes don’t get a chance to work on your business.  The only time I worry is when I get hit with a strong smell of bleach when I walk in – then I tend to delve a bit deeper.  There’s not much that gets past us.  We’ve been in the industry a long time.  You need a bit of gravitas to drop a Qualmark grade.  In my case having known these businesses for years I am quite friendly with the operators and can have very honest conversations with them."

I had my own business at the foot of Mount Hutt for 29 years before B&Bs were a dime a dozen.  It was a wonderful lifestyle.  I sold up and moved to Nelson to be closer to my ailing mother, and saw the Qualmark job advertised.  It was perfect timing."

“After leaving school I trained as a nurse.  I’ve always been a people person.  I can’t imagine not doing this now."

“Tourism is such a vibrant industry and we’re in fine shape.  There will always be challenges but part of the Qualmark system is aiming to make industry more sustainable and resilient.  There has been an education role, showing the four sections of sustainable business.  Some businesses may have been Enviro Gold award holders but were not strong in the other areas so missed out on the Gold Sustainable Tourism Business Award.  I love the new system."

She laughs about a Facebook post recently, where she was snapped making beds.  “I turned up at the Kaikoura business and they’d had such a hard year.  I walked in and the owner looked at me in horror having forgotten I was coming.  I said ‘look I have the morning with you, I won’t do the bathrooms but I can make a good bed’, so I went around making beds while I did the assessment.  Now I keep getting emails [from my other properties] asking me to come and make beds.  Our job can take different turns – we’re there to help out, provide advice, sometimes counselling.”