The Opoutere hostel. Photo: YHA

We must make the hard decisions: in defence of the YHA board

Last month a former YHA board member argued that closure of the Opoutere hostel showed the organisation had stopped listening to its membership. That’s a misleading characterisation, counters YHA head Mark Wells.

In mid-February YHA’s national board confirmed the closure of a hostel at Opoutere in the Coromandel. The hostel was a very special location for members over the years, including Mark Ebrey, as well as countless guests and staff.

While the decision to close this particular hostel was highly regretful, it followed a comprehensive review and extensive consultation that started in late 2016.

YHA’s network has never been static and, like many organisations, we have had to evolve in response to ongoing challenges and opportunities. Front and centre, we’re ever-mindful of the need to maintain YHA’s financial sustainability, which means we monitor and adapt our network to meet changing  visitor travel patterns edand also to meet guests’ evolving accommodation preferences.

Within this context, the Opoutere hostel sadly has had poor occupancy and has been loss-making for some years. The introduction of a seasonal operating model did reduce the level and impact of those losses, and so extended its life. However, for the hostel to comply with current standards and meet our quality requirements, substantial immediate and ongoing financial investment was required. Unfortunately, such investment would not have increased the hostel’s income and would also have added to its operating costs.

The YHA board took all these factors into account in its consideration of YHA Opoutere’s future, along with submissions made in an expanded consultation process following our 2017 AGM.

The board went to great lengths and considerable expense to hear those views, including those of Mr Ebrey, and considered all information as well as additional independent advice about issues raised by members in this consultation process. In so doing, the board confirmed that it has behaved in a manner fully compliant with its constitution, contrary to the opinion to which Mr Ebrey refers.

There is no question that the board’s deliberation occurred with the wider good in mind, and a central element of that wider good is the very sustainability of YHA financially. Achieving a sustainable business model is the only way the organisation can continue to deliver on its mission and so recognise the contribution of those in the past who have made YHA the successful organisation it is today.

Discussions are currently taking place with a third party in relation to an alternative use of the Opoutere hostel site. The proposal is likely to include offering visitor accommodation over the peak summer period, while also operating a youth-focused programme through the rest of the year. This directly fits with the gazetted purpose of the site and is likely to receive strong local community support.

Mr Ebrey also makes comment on the board co-option programme. For many years, successive national boards have made use of their co-option powers established by YHA’s Constitution. The complexities and regulatory accountabilities and compliance of governance demand a board that consists of suitably skilled and experienced individuals, and the ability to co-opt up to two board members enables this to be achieved.

Co-option opportunities are widely advertised, are for a relatively short and finite period, and come with an expectation that the co-opted board member stand for election, as can any other senior financial member.

Mr Ebrey is well aware of this, having contested board elections unsuccessfully on more than one occasion in recent years.

Finally, he claims that a member has been threatened with expulsion as an outcome of allegations that the chair and senior staff are misleading members – I completely reject that.

Mark Wells is chief executive of YHA New Zealand

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