Mayor Boult's new tourism directorships
As Mayor Jim Boult (main image: with Tourism Minister Stuart Nash in Queenstown this week) amplified his campaign to increase taxpayer tourism support and reduce Covid restrictions for Queenstown tourism businesses, he has taken on multiple new directorships in the South Island's largest tourism operator – RealNZ.
The changes have been made without all of the new directorships being published on the QLDC’s Register of Interests.
Mayor Boult’s lawyers say the new directorships were part of a restructure of Wayfare Group following its change of name to Real Group, which they say Boult advised to QLDC immediately it occurred. The lawyers said Boult had disclosed his interests in the principal company (Real Group Limited), its subsidiary companies and associates by using the word “Group” when notifying his interest.
However, none of the new directorships was published on the QLDC public Register of Interests on the council website, with council staff telling Crux that the changes were logged into “the council’s official record management system” adding that the QLDC website “is not the official Register of Interests” and that the website register was only updated “from time to time.”
Council staff say it will take until next week to supply Crux with the updated internal records.
It’s a situation that’s been critcised by QLDC councillor Niki Gladding who told Crux this afternoon that the whole point of the Register of Interests was that it had to be public.
“It has to be public, otherwise we as councillors and the public have no way of knowing about potential or actual conflicts of interest. The Mayor has recently written to Government calling for a relaxation of Covid public health measures but that letter was not seen or approved by any other councillors.
"I feel the Mayor’s statements have damaged our community’s reputation. I also believe the Mayor has a conflict of interest when it comes to tourism and that conflict is not being managed well. We need to know where the personal interests of all elected members sit.”
Crux has also discovered, in the published Register of Interests, a loan of unspecified value to Mayor Boult from the late Sir Eion Edgar. Sir Eion was one of the main supporters of both local election campaigns for Jim Boult, but Boult’s lawyers say the loan from Sir Eion was “purely a commercial matter with no relationship to our client’s electoral campaign.”
The money is owed by Boult to SIL Long Term Holdings, a company that is not only linked to the late Sir Eion but also involves another director with significant Queenstown links – Mark Taylor. Taylor was forced to resign as Chairman of the Queenstown Airport Corporation, by QLDC, after he helped engineer the sale of 25% of Queenstown Airport to Auckland Airport for $27 million in 2010 - wiithout telling the council. The controversial sale attracted attention from both the Auditor General and the Ombudsman. Taylor was told at the time by QLDC to either resign or get sacked.
The QLDC Register of Interests. Public or Private? The full RealNZ relationship with Mayor Boult.
It is a legal requirement for elected council members to declare any financial interests to the council. The current QLDC Register of Interests only has one reference to RealNZ under the Mayor’s name.
“RealNZ Group (formerly Wayfare Group) - Family owned tourism holding group - Non Shareholding Chairman.”
Source: QLDC Register of Interests.
The actual name of the former Wayfare Group is Real Group Ltd.
In March 2021 Mayor Boult became a Director of all the following companies:
- QUEENSTOWN RAFTING LIMITED (808884)
- INTERNATIONAL ANTARCTIC ATTRACTION LIMITED (5824439)
- CARDRONA ALPINE RESORT LIMITED (4462678)
- MILFORD SOUND FLIGHTSEEING LIMITED (2005652)
- REALNZ LIMITED (2283807)
- FIORDLAND TRAVEL LIMITED (1041555)
- REAL JOURNEYS LIMITED (154923)
These are all the operating companies of the RealNZ Group or Real Group Ltd. Mayor Boult is also a director, along with six other directors, of the principal company – Real Group Limited.
In the new structure Mayor Boult is only one of two directors of the RealNZ operating companies, along with Tony Balfour.
RealNZ CEO Stephen England-Hall was made a director of the operating companies in February this year, but then ceased to be a director only 30 days later, making way for Mayor Boult.
Mr England-Hall, formerly CEO of Tourism NZ, replaced interim RealNZ CEO Ian Jackson. Mr Jackson was a family friend of Mayor Boult and partner to controversial Queenstown Airport CEO Colin Keel. Mr Keel and Mr Jackson left Queenstown earlier this year following Mr Keel’s resignation as CEO of the Queenstown Airport Corporation.
Crux asked Mr England-Hall why he was a Director of the operating companies for such a short period of time and why Mayor Boult had stepped in to all of the Directorships.
“As the incoming CEO, I was assigned to a number of directorships that had been vacated with the departure of the previous CEO.
“As a director of a parent company, you are responsible for the performance of the subsidiaries, regardless of whether you are a director of the subsidiary or not.
“So, for simplicity we decided that the group company directors should also be the directors of our subsidiaries, that’s why I ceased being a director as I’m not a director of the group company.”
Mr England-Hall did not address the issue of only two out of seven parent company directors taking on the operational director roles.
The following statement was issued by Christchurch lawyers acting for Mayor Boult.
“The name change of the former Wayfare Group to RealNZ, and the directorship changes to which you have referred, were simply part of a group restructuring exercise. That name change was advised by Mr Boult to the Council immediately when it occurred.
“Our client’s directorship of various companies in the Group has been disclosed on the QLDC interests register by virtue of disclosure of his directorship of the Group. It is normal commercial practice to use the word “Group” to refer to a principal company, its subsidiaries, and associates.
“Mr Boult has no direct or indirect ownership interest in the Group or any companies in it; his role is limited to a directorship, for which he is paid a fee for his time. That is well evident from the Companies Office records.”
What Boult’s lawyers do not explain, when asked by Crux, is why Mayor Boult would take on these multiple directorships without having any ownership interest.
In any case, the Auditor-General does not distinguish between owning shares or being paid fees when it comes to Local Authority law and the Register of Interests:
“A definition of financial interest:
… a councillor should be held to have a pecuniary interest in a matter before the council if the matter would, if dealt with in a particular way, give rise to an expectation which is not too remote of a gain or loss of money by him.”
There was widespread speculation prior to Covid that Wayfare Group, now RealNZ, was considering some type of public share sale or stock market launch.
The Wayfare Group made a submission to QLDC in May 2021 calling for further development of tourism facilities under the proposed QLDC District Plan quoting the following tourism numbers in support of their submission.
QLDC statistics show the average spend per visitor as $155 a day for domestic travellers, suggesting that the Wayfare Group still has a decent share of a $94 million spend even post Covid, based on their 608,886 visitor numbers for April 2020 to March 2021.
Source: Wayfare Group/RealNZ submission to QLDC District Plan proposal process.
Wayfare/RealNZ has received over $10 million in Government subsidies so far as part of tourism industry support from the Government.