This oped is written by Kelvin Davis, Minister of Tourism.
OPINION: The global COVID-19 pandemic has changed tourism in New Zealand forever. While Australia and New Zealand are committed to introducing a Trans-Tasman safe travel zone once it is safe to do so, with closed borders and uncertain health and economic conditions overseas, it will still be some time before other international visitors return. The impact is felt from large businesses to mum-and-dad operators all over the country. The hurt is real.
The good news is, our collective effort to combat the virus has worked - the results speak for themselves – and we are already implementing our plan to restart, recover and rebuild tourism. As part of Budget 2020, I announced a $400 million Tourism Recovery Plan. When forming this package, we carefully considered the industry’s feedback. There were calls to support staff costs, for investment in regional organisations, for help to transition their business towards the domestic market and for tailored support for key attractions.
The first step was to cushion the blow for operators, to look after our employers and employees. Broad economic support formed the basis of our plan. Extending and targeting the wage subsidy, and making interest-free loans available to small businesses has helped get the industry through to the restart of domestic travel.
The second step involves the domestic campaign led by Tourism New Zealand, funded from their $112 million budget. ‘Do Something New, New Zealand’ encourages Kiwis to get out in our great country and try something they haven’t done before. This domestic work will be TNZ’s largest ever market investment with rolling campaigns over 12 months.
The third part of our plan is to help operators make good decisions about their futures, including how and when to adapt to domestic tourism and the Australian market. Our $400 million fund includes a Tourism Transitions Programme, supporting businesses to navigate a way forward. So far, 397 businesses have approached Qualmark for support through this programme, of which 271 have been approved.
While our borders remain closed, there are strategic tourism assets across the country we can’t afford to lose. So our $400 million fund also supports a Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme to safeguard those critical attractions that generate significant spill over benefits to their region. Last week this programme invested up to $4 million to Discover Waitomo and up to $20.2 million for New Zealand’s 31 Regional Tourism Organisations. I visited Kaikōura with Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday to announce Whale Watch Kaikōura as the programme’s latest recipient, receiving up to $1.5 million to support its operations. This brings total investment from the programme to date to $25.7 million, and we will continue to work with tourism operators to protect those assets that are vital to our sector’s recovery.
The sad reality is, even with Government support, more businesses will make tough decisions, and unfortunately, more jobs will be lost. We had nearly 3.9 million international visitors in 2019, and the loss of those visitors will completely change the nature of our industry.
Our role as the Government isn’t to get in the way of commercial decisions that need to be made, but to manage the impact on our people; to make sure businesses have the time and information to make the best decisions possible; and to ensure the collective good of the future industry is protected. I believe our recovery plan will achieve these objectives. We know that a post-COVID tourism industry won’t be the same, but we are helping the industry to transition to something new, and we are securing the foundations that we will need to rebuild.
Hon Kelvin Davis is the NZ Tourism Minister.