A lack of government support during Covid has contributed to a flailing tour and coach sector – so where is the tourism minister, asks Bus and Coach Association chief executive Ben McFadgen.
With the summer season in full swing and international visitors flocking back to New Zealand, the challenges the tour and coach sector is having meeting the high demand are exactly as predicted.
What’s happening now is exactly what we said would happen over a year ago. This shortage of operators, tour drivers and coaches is a direct result of the sector being overlooked when financial support was needed during the pandemic.
Over 35% of our operators have closed up shop forever and their coaches have been sold. A large number of people have left the industry and found employment elsewhere.
Why? Because they weren’t being supported by the one entity you would think would understand the impact on New Zealand of losing such an important sector: the government.
Now we have huge demand, and the tourism industry is really struggling to fill that demand. This should not be a surprise to anyone. It is a direct result of the lack of understanding and action by the relevant ministers within our government on a foundation component within the New Zealand tourism industry.
Now, New Zealand’s reputation is suffering. Where is the tourism minister?
The situation has been made worse by the current Covid resurgence, the media focus on the increasingly less relevant infection numbers across New Zealand and the perception that tourists, particularly cruise ship passengers are responsible for the outbreak.
They’re not, they’re simply more visible because they are taking precautions and they’re an easy target because they’re visitors. Frankly, the risk of catching Covid from a visitor is no different to catching it from your next-door neighbour, or workmate. The virus is a contagion, it is also now endemic. If people are worried about catching Covid then they need to take precautions like we all did last year – wear a mask, social distance, and isolate if you are sick.
A critical factor in New Zealand is the age of many tour bus drivers, with many well over 60. They just don’t want to put themselves at risk driving on the front line, and why would they? Many don’t have to work, those that do can get a job with a much lower risk profile and probably for more money. What would you do?
With little in the way of relief on the horizon, inbound tour and cruise ship operators need to work closely with tour coach operators to manage the crisis, whilst the government focuses on how best it can support this flailing sector.
It’s about working together, communicating often and early, and being understanding about each other’s situation. We are all part of the problem, let’s be part of the solution.