Stuart Nash is leaning heavily on the Tourism Industry Transformation Plan but that initiative is not a strategy for the sector as the recovery begins, writes the Ticker’s Paul Yandall.
One of the ironies of Tourism Minister Stuart Nash calling out the slow delivery of destination management plans from RTOs is that it focuses the mind on what exactly he is delivering for the sector.
Yes, there has been valuable and significant targetted support for tourism through the poorly executed pre-Nash $290m Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme, part of Budget 2020’s $400m Tourism Response Fund.
That was followed last year by the $200m Tourism Communities: Support, Recovery and Re-set Plan.
Both initiatives have provided lifelines to operators and, as Nash noted in his address to the Tourism Policy School, they have also allocated $47m to RTOs to develop their destination management plans and prioritise regenerative practices for tourism’s post-Covid future. The $49m Kick-start Fund, part of the Tourism Communities plan, will also give hard-hit operators a welcome boost as the borders re-open.
But what is New Zealand’s overarching post-Covid destination management plan? What are the priorities for the sector through the recovery and out the other side of the pandemic?
The tourism minister has been urging the industry to change and challenging it to do better but in what ways exactly? More electric vehicles? Less plastic in hotels? A bigger focus on value over volume? More conservation-focused product?
Nash has made a lot of noise about tackling freedom camping and expects changes to be in place for this summer. Sure, tidying up freedom camping is a good thing, but deeper structural challenges in tourism remain and exactly how the sector reshapes, if at all, remains a mystery.
The minister is putting a lot of stock in the Tourism Industry Transformation Plan, which aims to tackle issues in a single-focus way over the long term. That’s a sensible approach given that industry challenges in education, the workforce, and the environment will take years to turn around.
Let’s look at the proposed timeline. An action plan for the ITP’s first focus, building a better workforce, is not expected until Q3 2022, with implementation expected over the following 2-3 years. At some stage, the ITP will move on to the environment, its next challenge. That leaves the sector waiting years for the initiative to complete all of its work.
That makes it clear the ITP is not a vision or strategy for tourism, it is a framework for addressing longterm challenges.
But what New Zealand needs now, as the recovery begins, is a clear vision and a plan to build the tourism sector we want.
Why? Let’s take Air New Zealand’s announcement of its direct New York service starting in September. We’re as pleased as anyone that the airline is reconnecting with the world to bring in much-needed visitors for the recovery.
But the IPCC said yesterday that we should all fly less to help tackle climate change and the tourism minister wants the sector to become more regenerative, so what is the correct way to view a new 17-hour non-stop flight?
More importantly, how does the tourism minister reconcile the operations of the country’s large volume tourism businesses, like airlines and airports, with his view of a more sustainable and regenerative sector? Is he going to tell Air New Zealand to fly less and carry fewer passengers as it tries to repair its balance sheet? Should it jack up prices so only wealthier visitors fly here? What role should airports be playing in tourism’s regenerative future?
In fact, how exactly does Nash want the tourism industry to change as operators focus in the years ahead on rebuilding their businesses? Two years on from “reimagining tourism” we still have no idea of what that actually means. Nash has focused on “regenerative tourism” but where is the plan for such a system?
The Tourism Futures Taskforce was ditched by Nash before it could complete its work, the government’s 2019 Tourism Strategy spoke to a different era, and the Environment Commissioner Simon Upton’s major recommendation – a distance-related departure tax – never made it off the page.
They are all, apparently, feeding into the ITP, which will at some stage, in the years ahead, present some findings, and some action plans, on the different issues it tackles, one at a time.
Tourism cannot wait for that and it needs more than just the minister challenging some to do better and chastising others to work faster to create the change he so often talks about. It needs a plan and it needs it now.