Francis Mortimer, director of inbound wholesale business New Zealand Pacific Discovery, looks at how the measures taken in Fiji following the 2000 coup, including the formation of the Tourism Action Group, could be applied to New Zealand as it combats the impact of the Covid-19 crisis.
In last Thursday’s Tourism Ticker it was interesting to read Tourism Export Council of New Zealand’s Lynda Keene suggest that “inbound operators are relying on ITOs to step up and get things moving again”. In my view, everyone will have a role to play in bringing tourism back and ITOs are only a part of the mix in a post-Covid-19 alert level 4 tourism recovery.
I worked at Air New Zealand for some years before starting my inbound business. I held the role of inbound manager at the airline for the Pacific Islands from northern hemisphere markets during what turned out to be a challenging time from 19 May 2000.
Fiji tourism, which has always been a leader in the Pacific, was on a roll with record arrivals from its main markets in Australia and New Zealand. Following big marketing campaigns in the UK and USA, numbers from those markets to Fiji were strong, adding further promise for the upcoming year.
The Pacific’s version of TRENZ, BFTE, had just concluded with Fiji operators having written an enormous amount of new contracts. However, as we drove to the airport that May morning to fly home, an ominous convoy of military trucks was driving in the opposite direction towards Suva where George Speight had just staged a coup.
Almost immediately the impact of the coup saw tourism inflows drop to levels never before seen, and major airlines serving Fiji either withdrew or reduced services.
It wasn’t like the current situation, in which we find ourselves in New Zealand with forced border closures. The coup erected its own barriers as tourists from all the major markets stayed away and hotels and businesses associated with tourism laid off staff. Manufacturing in Fiji also took a hammering as foreign companies, the backbone of an emerging new garment industry, simply closed their operation and moved factories to South East Asia.
For Fiji, with limited resources and an economy almost totally reliant on tourism, this was a major crisis.
However, the Fiji tourism industry didn’t sit back and rely on one sector to lead the recovery.
Unlike New Zealand, they didn’t have a government to help them recover – the elected MPs were being held hostage by armed men. There were no wage subsidies or special bank loans to help the industry through this crisis. They were totally on their own.
They quickly realised that to survive they all had to play a part – the National Tourism Office, the inbound operators, the airlines, hoteliers, transport operators as well as communications specialists, foreign travel wholesalers and travel agencies. A grand coalition of the industry was formed under the name of the Tourism Action Group (TAG), which worked incredibly well to build and implement the recovery plan. I was fortunate to join TAG as Air NZ’s representative and contribute to the planning. The TAG was so successful it was reactivated following a further coup in Dec 2006.
I believe we in New Zealand can take a lead from our small Pacific neighbour as we move to coalesce our thinking and planning.
Like Fiji, I hope we see a gathering of tourism professionals who are practitioners from the field who can form our own TAG. These should be the people who work in this industry every day, are in touch with the distribution system and who can get things done quickly. They need to not only include ITOs but as in Fiji, Air NZ, hoteliers, tourism operators and all backed up by a top communications team.
As travel movements are relaxed it seems obvious that domestic tourism is going to be the driver of the recovery. For that reason, it is going to be vital that as well as the representation mentioned above, that major national travel agency chains are represented on any team such as a TAG. They can motivate their franchisees who are in touch with the customer either direct or via social media platforms and present them with the offers to get people moving again.
The longer term needs addressing too, especially around how we might find a solution to reigniting international movements, which intuitively could be Australia, on a state-by-state selection basis and the virus-free Pacific Islands. Australia’s importance can’t be ignored because international travel beyond there is not going to open any time soon.
As has been indicated in the prime minister’s briefings, the Government is going to have to give the lead on this.
We don’t need a talkfest, rather an action group that is going to be ready to drive the recovery as soon as travel restrictions are relaxed.
New Zealand Pacific Discovery
Francis Mortimer was a member of the Fiji Tourism Action Group and chair of the NZ/Fiji Business Council. He left Air New Zealand in 2007 to create his own inbound wholesale business, New Zealand Pacific Discovery.
18 Dec 2019 Wednesday Letter: Tourism BOP’s Kristin Dunne