The tourism boss heading the push to sell New Zealand to Kiwis has glimpsed the future and likes what he sees.
Tourism New Zealand chief executive Stephen England-Hall is part of a ground-breaking project to ''re-imagine'' the visitor industry here and his organisation will re-direct a big chunk of its $111 million annual budget to market to a domestic audience.
The organisation hasn't done that for decades. Its remit was to attract overseas visitors but because of Covid-19 that market has been cut off completely with no certainty when it will be turned on again.
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For the past five weeks England-Hall has been liaising with thousands involved in what was a $41 billion a year industry to get a picture of what it could look like in the future and how to get more New Zealanders enjoying their own back yard where they will largely be confined for the foreseeable future.
Spending at home has always made up the bulk of that $41b but now Kiwis will be able to spend at least part of the $11b they spent overseas last year on seeing more of their own country.
England-Hall says the lockdown had provided the opportunity to remotely communicate with a wide variety of players, from operators to iwi groups and those involved in conservation and protecting the environment.
''We've actually had the chance for the last few weeks to really get out there and connect with a lot of people and try and understand what is happening.''
Key themes were coming through.
Tourism participants want an industry that New Zealand can be proud of, is sustainable, supports the communities it is based in and taps into Kiwi ingenuity.
He said a couple of decades ago there were cutting edge products developed such as bungy jumping and Zorbing and now was the time for more innovation.
''Maybe we need to create some room in the future tourism system for some more new entrants and more innovation, entrepreneurial sort of behaviour. Those kinds of things are kind of interesting and gives you the idea that people are thinking about the future in quite an exciting way,'' he said.
The other message coming through clearly was that tourism ventures that appeal to Kiwis needed to be ''restorative of nature'', said England-Hall.
''These kinds of things have come out in almost every conversation we've had so there's real alignment amongst all groups that we can create a tourism system that better for everyone in the future.''
The sudden halt to international and domestic tourism has put at risk at least a quarter of the 400,000 visitor industry and related jobs with thousands of staff being laid off already.
England-Hall says he will get the results of an industry survey on the state of individual businesses in the coming week but it was clear some operations had closed down, others were in deep hibernation cutting staff numbers to the bone while a few were busy re-positioning themselves for the domestic focus.
Attractions such as rafting and kayaking aimed at overseas visitors may offer more adventurous and longer-duration experiences for Kiwis who were often more intrepid than foreign tourists.
He warned that the market would not necessarily be flooded with bargain-price attractions. With some operations out of business and increased local demand, prices wouldn't necessarily fall.
He's can imagine Kiwis planning their itineraries with the same care and attention that they did with trips overseas to get the most of their local holidays.
''We can't transform a sector that doesn't exist''
The Government has set a tight timetable for a plan on what the sector could look like and how to promote it.
Tourism is at tipping point, however.
''The thing that is really important is if you're going to re-imagine the tourism system you do need a tourism economy, and the tourism economy is currently zero right now - we are really starting from scratch,'' says England-Hall.
The wage subsidy was helping some businesses get by and Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis said the $100,000 soft loan facility would also help tourism operators.
The big question is when can domestic tourism kick in to life with all non-essential travel effectively banned under level 3 and a lack of clarity over what will be allowed under level 2.
Davis said on Friday he didn't want to pre-empt any announcements but Tourism Industry Aotearoa is leading growing calls for a relaxation of restrictions on holidays around the country under level 2, saying it can be done safely. Cabinet is working through the details of what will be permitted under level 2 and a decision of whether to move to that is due to be announced next Monday.
England-Hall says he understands the industry's need for clarity but timing of a restart was vexed.
''The Government has to walk a line between the health and wellbeing of the community and economic wellbeing.''
The timing of establishing a transtasman border bubble to allow relatively free movement between Australia and New Zealand was also in doubt.
England-Hall said rather than getting too focused on its timing, energy now should go into setting up the health technology and other logistics that would be needed.
He said about half TNZ's staff were now focused on New Zealand, boosted by the appointment last week of Bjoern Spreitzer as general manager of a newly established domestic team.
He's worked at Tourism NZ for the past 14 years, most recently as global manager planning and partnerships and general manager Americas & Western Europe.
His team will be structured similar to TNZ's offshore markets with public relations, marketing and trade resources.
While the focus has changed to the domestic market England-Hall said decades of work would be lost if TNZ ''went dark'' overseas and marketing of the country to maintain awareness would continue.
While unable to encourage tourism right now, it was important to keep New Zealand alive in the hearts and minds of those who want to visit in the future. This could skew to promoting New Zealand's lifestyle and exports such as food and wine in the meantime.
''We can't afford to go dark as a country as it will slow down our recovery by three to five years. We'll put the focus and emphasis on domestic market but if we put all resources here it would be an over investment.''