Wellington Scoop

What’s in a name?

by Lindsay Shelton
For many of us, this week was the first time we’d heard about “Experience Wellington.” Is it an instruction, or an offer? Is “experience” a verb or a noun?

Experience Wellington had been a low-profile entity till it announced on Monday that it had appointed a new chief executive.

It turns out that Experience Wellington is a city council-owned organisation which is also a charitable trust. It describes itself as offering “experiences unlike anywhere else in New Zealand.” There’s an offer! It creates these experiences by running eight organisations including Capital E, Space Place at Carter Observatory, the City Gallery and the Wellington Museum.

Which is confusing, because there’s also another (better known) city council organisation called Museums Wellington, and part of its responsibility is that it runs the Wellington Museum and Space Place as well as the Cable Car Museum and the Nairn Street Cottage. Yet these are also listed as the responsibility of Experience Wellington.

Look again at the website of Experience Wellington, and in small print you discover that it also calls itself the Wellington Museums Trust. It refers to 24 years of experience, which one guesses includes the years when it had its original name, one that was more precise and less baffling.

We run six extraordinary visitor experiences for Wellington City Council: Capital E, Space Place at Carter Observatory, City Gallery Wellington, Nairn Street Cottage, Wellington Museum (including the Plimmer’s Ark display in the Old Bank Arcade) and the Cable Car Museum. We also support the operation of the New Zealand Cricket Museum and Hannah Playhouse, using our 24 years of experience to ensure that Wellington’s cultural assets thrive. Our business opens the doors to remarkable experiences that set Wellington apart.

And much more

The Experience Wellington Executive Office provides strategic leadership, drawing upon the strengths, skills and experiences of our organisation to deliver our vision. Our role is to provide essential services like finance and HR support across the whole organisation and to ensure that Experience Wellington meets the standards required by a publically-funded organisation. We allocate resources, undertake research, coordinate improvement strategies, and provide policy development and strategic planning with the goal of making Experience Wellington a sector leader.

And its Vision is all of three words:

Engaged Curious Communities.

Museums Wellington has this to say about the work that it shares with Experience Wellington:

Museums Wellington comprises four of our city’s leading visitor attractions – Wellington Museum, Space Place, Cable Car Museum and Nairn Street Cottage. Collectively, our museums attract nearly 400,000 visitors every year. Our collections are diverse, including everything from a piece of moon rock to Rusty the last taxidermy Lion from the Zoo. With the development of Wellington Museum, we are working to ensure that as many of our collection items as possible are put on display.

There’s no doubt that the Wellington Museum is a great place. But further study reveals that Museums Wellington is “part of” Experience Wellington. I suppose that explains why there are two organisations overseeing it. Even if we don’t understand why multiple levels of administrative control are needed for these ratepayer-funded organisations.

And on the subject of names that are little known.

Have you heard of WellingtonNZ? If you do a Google search you’ll be told it’s the capital city of New Zealand. But it’s also the name of another council-owned organisation, which has a beautifully-designed website that makes no reference, however, to the fact that its real name is the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency. That’s a name that tells you what it’s supposed to do. But what does WellingtonNZ tell you?

A first look at its website gives the impression that it’s a really persuasive tourist organisation, which is no doubt a big part of the economic development for which it’s responsible. Its support of the regional economy also places high-profile emphasis on Wellington restaurants, cafes, bars and shopping. It says we are

Famous for a vibrant creative culture fuelled by great food, wine, craft beer, coffee and events, Wellington is a cosmopolitan city with an energetic personality.

A strange summary which omits many of the most important activities that we thought Wellington was most famous for.

It does however offer “everything you need to know about finding a job.” And it has a business response team that will “get back to you within one to three working days.”

Which makes you hope that there’s more to WellingtonNZ (no, not the capital city) than you’d learn from its website.

There’s one more name that puzzles me. Why does the Wellington Regional Council insist that it is “Greater”? Greater than all the other councils in the region, perhaps? We know it’s the “regional” council, so it’s difficult to tell what the “greater” word is intended to add to our recognition of its identity. Greater than the region? Greater in what it delivers? Just generally greater? Bigger? Better?

Council documents and press releases make frequent use of only two words – “Greater Wellington” – as if this is what it’s actually called. But then from time to time it slips back and refers to itself, more mundanely, as “the council.” And it makes references to the “greater Wellington region,” which begs the question: how’s this different from the Wellington region? Ar they pushing the boundaries?

Experience Wellington needed only three words (curious though they are) for its Vision. But for the Wellington Regional Council, three words aren’t enough to show off its self importance.


  1. Ian Apperley, 24. June 2020, 9:30

    I wonder what the combined total cost is. We know that WREDA is rumoured to be in the $20m per annum region, not confirmed, and that Experience Wellington is around $9m. Why do we need multiple CCOs?

  2. Benny, 24. June 2020, 16:06

    WellingtonNZ coming across as a tourist hub for Wellington? It certainly does. But not long ago it was also making a pledge for the airport runway extension. The true face of WREDA, a lobbyist for businesses.

  3. michael, 24. June 2020, 20:19

    The whole thing sounds confusing, inefficient and expensive.

  4. TrevorH, 25. June 2020, 7:58

    Wellington is certainly an increasingly “curious” place. It attracts self important paper shufflers on inflated rates funded salaries like the proverbial to blowflies.

  5. Hugh Rennie QC, 25. June 2020, 16:08

    It’s not easy to locate the annual financial statements of WREDA – they are available here.
    The Wellington Museums Trust (trading as Experience Wellington) is a registered charity and its annual financial statements are on the Charities register online – well, mostly. In the 2019 year, the City Council paid it just over $9 million and also a further $187,574 as an “underwrite” but Notes 21 and 22 to the accounts which explain this are missing. However a similar sum was paid in the previous year to cover operating losses of Space Place at the Carter Observatory and the Hannah Playhouse, so it is probably the same again.
    While it is not easy to work out how much in total these entities received from the Council, the 2018-2028 Annual Plan’s aim is to maintain the Council’s contribution to WREDA at less than 50% of total expenditure – which would indicate a current payment about $15-$16 million from WCC (plus about another $4 million from the Regional Council).
    It looks as if those activities which meet the test of being a charity (and so tax exempt) are in the Museums Trust, the rest in WREDA.
    Whether any of this is value to ratepayers you can determine by reading the annual reports online.

  6. Traveller, 25. June 2020, 16:55

    Re our “greater” council:
    Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.
    Who thrust greatness on the regional council?