Stephen Pahl, Destination Queenstown CEO Resigns. Status Quo Restored

Stephen Pahl, the Australian CEO of Destination Queenstown (DQ) has quit after less than a year in the post.

His resignation was announced in the Otago Daily Times today, effective as of next week, it’s all seems a bit sudden – Mr Pahl seemed to have a bright future ahead of him in Queenstown.

Previously Pahl had been with Ecotourism Australia (EA) for 9 years until he resigned in late October last year. During his highly successful tenure EA had grown from virtually nothing to become an innovative leader in sustainable tourism. It had over 1,000 ECO Certified products and was internationally recognized as a Global leader in the provision and management of certification programs which were about to launched overseas as “ECO International.”

In 2008 EA won the World Travel & Tourism Council’s “Tourism for Tomorrow” Award for Conservation at the World Tourism Summit in Dubai.

When his resignation from EA was announced he described the satisfaction of being able to make a direct contribution to the sustainability of the tourism industry, and to have been able to make a difference, as having been “extremely rewarding.”

By January he’d re-emerged in NZ with Destination Queenstown where he planned to do “wonderfully well” and wanted to spend time geting to know the marketing strategies in place and to do a “reality check” on how they related to the market and the challenges ahead. He was quoted as saying that the organisation would have to be “highly innovative” and that one of his first priorities was to engage with the airlines, including Jetstar.

He was also asked if he felt any pressure for “being an Aussie” to which his reply was “The fact I’m an Aussie, I hope no one’s going to hold that against me. If you look around the place, there are a lot of key people who are maybe Europeans, Americans or Irish. I’m here to do a job, I’ll do it wonderfully well. I’m a Kiwi now. I’m here for the long-haul. People have told me you’ve got to be here, 15 years is it, before you’re a local – we need to review that.” (Something that will resonate with many migrants in New Zealand who’ve been told they lack vital Kiwi experience) He also said that he’d have no problems working with his number two Graham Budd, who’d also applied for the job.

He was to be joined by his wife in March after she’d sold her Brisbane florist business and their 13 year old son who was due to attend Wakatipu High school.

Then in August details of an alleged DQ board draft restructuring plan were announced which proposed to axe a marketing manager’s post through the amalgamation of those held by market managers Linda McIntosh and Catriona Noonan. The role of Marketing GM held by Graham Budd (see above) was to be “scaled down” and Rotorua tourism identity Oscar Nathan had been engaged to “consult with staff.”

The Director of the Board said that the re-shuffle was about being “fiscally responsible” in a recession and denied that it was being driven by Stephen Pahl, she was asked if the restructure was canned if it would mean a question mark over Pahl’s position, her reply was:

“Why ever? I don’t think the recession’s got anything to do with the CEO.”

Pahl echoes his chairman’s view that he and the DQ board are “duty-bound” to look at the most efficient structure to deliver its business plan. “It’s not about Pahl putting his stamp on DQ – “It’s not about me, it’s not about people”. “Most businesses in this day are looking at the best way to cut their cloth.”

Told his chairman concedes the review mightn’t change anything, Pahl responds: “I don’t know why she would have said that.”

“Status Quo” and “Secret Squirrels
“Long-time local tourism operator Geoff Clear calls the restructure “a silly move”.
“We’re just going to have in-house bickering and a down­­turn of [staff] confidence.
“While it’s a vulnerable economy, we’ve got to keep the status quo – it’s working. Eighty per cent of DQ members wouldn’t know what’s happening, there are too many secret squirrels.

Clear is adamant the restructure is Pahl’s idea and will be rubber-stamped by the board.

Pahl’s first attempt to restructure DQ failed, however. He tried to end Australia-based marketing rep Jana Kingston’s contract and have DQ convention bureau staff handle the role – Pahl backtracked after a storm of protest from local operators.”

Is it any wonder Pahl, a highly successful, energetic and innovative go-getter only lasted 8 months in the job? The official reason for his departure is that he’s returning to Brisbane to “reinvigorate” his family’s two businesses, managed by his wife Debbie. Something that is probably a lot easier to reinvigorate than Destination Queenstown perhaps?

We have the feeling that this won’t be the last we hear of Stephen Pahl’s involvement in the Tourism Industry and wish him every success for the future.

Post Script: The roles of Communications Manager, and Office Administrator, both reporting to the CEO, are presently being advertised at DQ

3 thoughts on “Stephen Pahl, Destination Queenstown CEO Resigns. Status Quo Restored

  1. Stephen Pahl was reemployed immediately upon leaving Queenstown as a full time Executive Consultant with the Oaks Hotels and Resorts Group and as part of his responsibilities in Australia also oversees the strategic marketing of the Groups 5 New Zealand properties including two Oaks Hotels in Queenstown.

  2. Graham Budd was part of the problem and failed to support, cooperate, and be accommodating of positive change at DQ. He should be sacked, along with several members of the DQ Board for ongoing incompetency.

  3. Real shame about Stephen Pahl, sad to see him go.
    Never underestimate the power of the status quo in NZ – it's the Kiwi way or the highway.

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