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YoungTEC’s Zac Watson on the value of young talent in tourism

27 Jul 2020  By Contributor

New Zealand has an opportunity to build a stronger, more connected, more purposeful industry, with the help of the next generation of tourism leaders, writes Zac Watson, chair of the Young Tourism Export Council.

Zac Watson

Over the past decade, New Zealand has seen its tourism sector go from strength to strength through hard work, creativity and brilliant leadership from our key industry professionals and bodies. In the past two to three years, tourism and the visitor economy was also starting to become a viable, aspirational career path for young people. It became much more than the historical reputation of a “holiday or part-time job” while they look for something in a more long term sustainable line of work. The stigma around low wages, lack of career development opportunities and an educational pathway that didn’t meet the demand were all hurdles that industry, the education sector, and the public sector were starting to make enormous inroads with.

It took not much more than two months for Covid-19 to sweep through New Zealand, heavily impacting our tourism sector, and putting a stop to these success stories. The feeling of unease within tourism is still very much present today, and more so the fear of what lies ahead. It’s been devastating to watch many of our most successful tourism businesses have to totally reshape their strategy and make the painful decision to reduce their team in an attempt to simply survive. This has created immense unease for both business and employees. There are so many unknowns still in place around border dates, wage subsidies, central government targeted funding and overarching risk that Kiwi’s will not partake in the domestic tourism offering enough to save many internationally focused tourism businesses.

Eight years ago, facilitated by the Tourism Export Council of New Zealand (TECNZ), a group of forward thinking, diverse young tourism industry leaders formed YoungTEC. A sub-association to represent the interests of those industry professionals under the age of 36, employed in tourism to offer professional development and networking opportunities.

Today, this group has over 250 members, offers numerous free and paid calendar events, its own awards to recognise the achievements of our young people, and a nationally renowned Professional Development Program (PDP). Unfortunately, to the fault of no one, many of our members have been heavily impacted from a change in circumstances including redundancies, company hibernation or restructures.

For YoungTEC, Covid-19 has brought about many of the same realities that most of our businesses within tourism are facing. Rapid budget cuts, a new way of working, and most of all a forced new way of thinking. We have “pivoted” from initially a key outcome being professional development, to being more focussed around connection and communication. Ensuring all members whether they are still employed or not, have a voice, a sound board and a pathway back into the industry. We have changed the YoungTEC calendar to include low cost, mostly free events utilising online platforms for delivery, and have cancelled or postponed what is required. We are also continuing to look at ways to add value to all our members, and no matter their circumstances, ensuring that ease of connection to like-minded industry professionals continues.

A key annual event is our workshop day, in partnership with The Icehouse and the Hospitality Training Trust. It is focused on professional development in the leadership and management space. This year we have reworked the content, changed the price point, and focused on resilience to stay relevant to the current challenging environment we operate in. The interactive workshop will include frameworks and tools to help our young leaders find opportunities to drive the recovery journey within their own team or company. Registrations for ‘Opportunity in Uncertainty’ open at 10:00am today, Monday 27 July, and we are very excited and extremely grateful to our partners who have made this a reality in 2020.

When you stop and think about what our visitor industry has been through in the past two years alone it is baffling, let alone the last two decades. We have watched with pride as the tourism industry has slowly but surely made its way to the top of New Zealand’s export earning industries. It is now becoming apparent though as each day passes, that with school holidays and long weekends now behind us and a wage subsidy scheme that is nearing its end, that our industry is incredibly anxious for what comes next.

Although the uncertainty is not going away, tourism has earnt the right to get, and desperately needs significant support from local and central government on a targeted and practical approach to move forward for our incredible businesses, but also our talented passionate people. All of whom truly give everything to ensuring the best visitor experience is had by all throughout our beautiful nation of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Many of our young people have been forced to reconsider their career in tourism due to Covid-19. It is important that we make an effort to retain young talent within the tourism industry. Don’t underestimate their ability to help you find creative and innovative ways to rebuild your business and our industry. YoungTEC remains committed to developing these talented leaders and keeping them connected to the industry and each other to ensure we work together to build a better future.

We have an opportunity like never before, to emerge a stronger, more connected, more purposeful industry, and with the help of the next generation of tourism leaders, we will come out better than ever.

The ‘Opportunity in uncertainty’ event will be held on 23 September at The Icehouse, Auckland, and registrations open today.


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