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Perspectives: Tourism needs survival support, not innovation funding

20 May 2022  By Contributor

There will come a time for innovation in the industry but right now operators need more practical support, writes Tourism Export Council of New Zealand chief executive Lynda Keene.

Lynda Keene

The Tourism Export Council of New Zealand was not expecting any funding support in the 2022 Budget after asking Tourism Minister Stuart Nash for support in February 2022 – because it was urgently needed by businesses – and receiving a letter in May saying there was no intention to provide any further funding for inbound tour operators that are the conduit between New Zealand businesses and offshore travel partners.

When we saw $54.2m scroll across the TV screen for the tourism sector, we were delightfully surprised. Then we saw the word ‘innovation’ and slumped a bit. Why? Because international tourism businesses are still in survival mode and looking to innovate is a nice to have, not a priority when you have families and staff trying to put food on the table and cover their family and business bills.

The industry needs sector survival funding, not sector innovation funding.

Realising the $54.2m has come about from unspent Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme (2020) funding and Tourism Communities recovery package (2021) funding was also surprising.

In February 2022, TECNZ had already asked MBIE and the Minister for any unspent funds from these two initiatives to be reallocated to where the real need is. TECNZ submitted a business case showing where the need was on a per segment basis (from an industry survey) to highlight where any new investment would best produce a return on investment for the government’s previous investment in 2020 and 2021.

Based on receipt of the Minister’s letter say no further funding was available and then finding out there have been funds is a little perplexing. Our sector is still under immense stress and the anxiety business owners have had to endure would greatly have been alleviated if this funding was available earlier.

The fact that there’s no detail on how the funds will be distributed and what the criteria is to apply for the new fund is frustrating. We are not sure if the businesses that really need funding support will meet the criteria, we really hope so. There is a concern due to the high focus in the following areas:

  • Climate: Reduce carbon emissions in the tourism sector or have a positive impact on the climate.
    The industry has always had a strong focus on environmentally sustainability and climate change over decades since Green Globe 21 was introduced in the 1990s, then Earthcheck in 2000s and over 1200 businesses have already signed up to the UN Sustainability Development Goals. Climate and sustainability is not a new thing for tourism. Can we improve? Always.
  • Sustainability: increase the resilience or environmental sustainability of tourism.
    Any tourism business that has managed to survive, still operate and be a positive contributor to their community deserves some support. Other comments on environment noted above.
  • Technology: lift productivity or capability of the tourism sector through technology-based solutions.
    Many of our businesses implemented new technologies over past decades and use AR, VR, IR and all the Rs. Can we improve and be even more innovative? Yes, always.

Over the past two years businesses have had a chance to think about their futures, and in time, will look at implementing new products and experiences.

However, businesses need practical funding support now so they can recruit staff and get out of first gear, become operational and be ready to welcome back visitors. We very much hope the international tourism businesses who have already proven their resilience to stay operating after two years with either zero or only 20%-30% of pre-Covid revenue have proven they deserve a helping hand with this latest fund.

We must focus on the most practical form of investment to ensure there is a quality international tourism offering in the future. If some businesses can’t get support from the latest fund, New Zealand’s global reputation will continue to be at risk if we can’t recruit staff and plan with confidence and meet ‘brand NZ’ visitor expectations. The demand is there. Business owners will do their best.

The best way for the government to support the rebuild of New Zealand’s international tourism offering is to listen to the specialists (TECNZ) who have been bringing visitors here for 50 years, successfully growing it to be the country’s No. 1 export industry before Covid-19 struck.

We urge the government to listen and act on specialist advice to maximise their ROI over the past two years, which has been appreciated. We’d like to work in partnership and be part of the conversation going forward.


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