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Wednesday Letter: The world is reconnecting – NZ must too

29 Sep 2021  By Contributor

New Tourism Export Council of New Zealand chair Scott Mehrtens implores the government to set a date for re-opening the country’s borders and should be in Q1 of 2022.

Scott Mehrtens

Last Wednesday, I chaired my first TECNZ Board meeting taking over from the sterling work done by Anna Black over the past four years. Two years of which have been during the most tumultuous time the international tourism industry has ever encountered. Our sincere thanks to Anna for her commitment and leadership and her tenure of twelve years on the Board.

We have received a reply from tourism minister Stuart Nash about our request for new funding for ITOs and our supplier businesses sent 3 September 2021. Click here for the response. No specific funding is being considered. However, we will explore other options.

As each week passes our industry becomes more anxious and business owners more stressed when we learn about other countries that have either opened or have a border reopening plan they have shared with their nation. Businesses are falling and a number in hibernation will not rise.

Some of New Zealand’s most recognized business leaders like Rob Fyfe and Sir Ian Taylor are expressing their frustration about the Government’s hesitancy in embracing some of the private sector’s ideas to ‘help’ our nation through the health and economic crisis.

Covid-19 has pushed inbound tour operators and TEC members who had a strong focus on international tourism to the top of the emergency waiting room list needing serious triage assistance. Our supplier businesses have created world-class visitor activities, attractions, accommodation and transport experiences over a period of 50 years and have never asked for financial help before Covid. These businesses have invested millions of dollars in infrastructure, created new visitor products and experiences, strengthened relationships, built New Zealand’s global reputation, and they are bleeding.

The tourism industry desperately needs further targeted assistance to ensure the right businesses are operational and that there is a semblance of a quality international visitor offering in 2022 and beyond. TECNZ acknowledges the government’s tourism specific investment in 2020 and 2021 and mainstream business funding lockdown support in 2021. Thank you. However, more support is needed for those most affected with the closure of New Zealand’s border and Delta lockdown.

For many ITO international partners – offshore wholesalers and agents – we have reached a tipping point of them now removing New Zealand off their list of countries to sell. This will only get worse with every day that passes that the Government cannot give us an indication of when the border will reopen. We need to make it as simple as possible for our partners to ‘sell’ New Zealand and attract visitors back, therefore we need dates.

It is more critical than ever that we can advise our international partners as soon as possible when we can welcome back international visitors with an indicative reopening date in Q1 of 2022. Why? The booking lead-in time from ITO’s offshore partners can be anything from 3 months for FIT’s to 18 months for group tour series.

If we cannot let the world know soon that our borders will reopen in Q1 of 2022, offshore partners will simply look for other international destinations. Bookings currently being held in ITOs systems will then move to the 2023-2024 year and the window for New Zealand to capitalise on reconnecting to the world could be lost and the potential of hundreds of tourism businesses closing will become a reality.

We cannot understate the seriousness that a delay in announcing a border reopening date will have on New Zealand’s global reputation and the international tourism sector, let alone the prospect of the $17.5bn of lost annual international tourism earnings not flowing through the economy.

TECNZ has actively supported and promoted with minister Stuart Nash and minister Michael Wood a safe and phased reopening of New Zealand’s border to international visitors, when the time is right. What we are saying is Q1 of 2022 is the right time to start.


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