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Tourism Ticker’s 2021 Person of the Year

17 Dec 2021  By Tourism Ticker

It has been another one for the record books. Another year when the tourism sector was roiled by the uncertainty, changeability and consequence of Covid-19.

This means it is another year when the grit and determination of those still standing – and fighting – for the future is the first thing that must be acknowledged.

In the second year of the pandemic, for anyone and everyone who donned a smile through a patchy and, in many cases, short summer of 2020-21, took in the highs and lows of the trans-Tasman bubble, and the lows (and lows) of the Delta outbreak, we salute you.

The resilience and the reserves demonstrated by operators, ITOs, and event specialists rolling with the punches to survive another year of unprecedented challenges deserve recognition.

As we know, despite their best efforts, not all have been able to go the distance, with 2021 claiming both some low and some high-profile casualties, most recently the YHA which this week closed its 11 managed hostels after 89 years of operations in New Zealand. A sad day for tourism indeed.

For others, however, 2021 has been a time to take an opportunity that might have arisen were it not for a pandemic. Deal-makers and companies determined to chart a course through the rest of the pandemic and emerge on a position of dominance when this thing finally recedes.

Grant Webster

Here, we can think of a couple of examples starting with Grant Webster and the team at Tourism Holdings. Last week the stalwart of New Zealand’s campervan rental sector unveiled its plan to buy Australian rival Apollo Tourism & Leisure in a deal valued at around $140m. Can it secure competition clearance? If so, it will create a powerhouse platform from which Tourism Holdings will launch out of the pandemic, stronger in some aspects than before Covid hit.

Another 2021 deal-maker deserves a mention. Ryan Sanders and his Haka Tourism Group may not have been a fixture in the industry for as long as Tourism Holdings, but in 14 years or so of activity, they have brought energy and enthusiasm and a continued evolution, which has seen business expand into education tours and accommodation.

Sanders too plotted a new direction for these operations during the pandemic, setting out to create an A$500m hotel portfolio named Drifter Hospitality Group seeded with the Haka Lodges, and Australia’s Intrepid Travel buying in and entering the accommodation market for the first time. Intrepid also took a 60% stake in Haka Tours, positioning itself for the recovery.

And a cap doff to Queenstown’s private equity-backed Active Adventures, which entered the US acquiring Montana-based Austin Adventures. Like Intrepid, that’s excellent positioning for the recovery from Active Adventures’ Wendy van Lieshout and the team and we wish them success on their global journey.

While 2021 has been another critical year for operators, it has also been crucial for the sector to be front and centre of government and the public so they understand both the issues and the stakes involved.

For that reason, the Ticker wants to recognise the advocates who have been beating the drum both publicly and privately for the visitor economy, and speaking up clearly and with authenticity to represent their industries:

Lynda Keene

TECNZ’s Lynda Keene and Scott Mehrtens, Bus and Coach’s Ben McFadgen, BARNZ’s Justin Tighe-Umbers, Hotel Council Aotearoa’s James Doolan, Hospitality New Zealand’s Julia White, NZ Cruise’s Kevin O’Sullivan and Debbie Summers, RTNZ’s Charlie Ives and David Perks, HPNZ’s Fergus Brown, and BEIA’s Lisa Hopkins.

Yes, it is their job to represent their members but we feel they have done so with dignity and aplomb, often in the face of government intransigence and inconsistency, while also coping with the demands that a disparate membership can place on them.

Which brings us to the Ticker’s Person of the Year. If we thought 2020 was ‘a year like no other’, Delta has forced us to recalibrate and who knows what Omicron will bring in 2022? One person and his team must chart those waters more carefully than many others, being both industry advocate, as well as a government partner and critic as the case demands.

Tourism Industry Aotearoa’s Chris Roberts will leave his office for the last time next week amidst the most tumultuous period the sector has ever seen. Pre-Covid, we always felt Roberts presented a rational, reasonable face of industry to both government and the public. Quick to raise concerns but slow to anger, patient where others (like us) saw red, taking a longer, more strategic view of complex industry issues, as well as dealing with the demands of tourism’s varied stakeholders.

Yes, we admit that maybe those qualities would have come up short during a fast-moving pandemic but cometh the crisis, cometh the Chris, and we’ve been impressed by his indefatigability and his tireless advocacy. Amidst the storm, TIA has provided a shelter of sorts, especially with its focus on mental health. And it has also renewed its sustainability agenda, acknowledging that despite Covid, the climate challenge continues.

Roberts thanked the Ticker for the accolade but quickly diverted attention back to the wider industry.

“It’s been a bit strange because people say to me ‘you must be exhausted and you must be looking forward to a break’,” he said.

Chris Roberts

“Whenever I feel a little tired I just think about the operators out there who are seeing their life’s work disappearing before their eyes. I don’t feel the stress that I’m under comes anywhere near that.”

Roberts acknowledged the operators still working and open despite the challenges, as well as those who have managed to prosper during the pandemic.

“Some have been fortunate enough to do well with domestic tourism and do much more than just survive,” he said.

“To those who are just hanging on, enjoy the Christmas period and be grateful that here in New Zealand we’re actually dealing with this global pandemic so much better than many other countries.

“We all know that our product remains as desirable as ever. Tourism will be back.”

You can read our full interview with Roberts in the New Year but, for now, congratulations – let’s hope TIA’s new chief executive will have as clear a voice and can create as high a profile – tourism needs it.

That is our coverage for 2021. We’ll restart Roundup on the website only on Monday 10 January and our coverage and the Daily Bulletin start again on Monday 17 January.

Thank you again for all of your support after another difficult year for many.

We hope you all have and a safe and prosperous Christmas and a Happy New Year,
The Ticker team


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