I'm shortly moving on from a very stimulating few years in the tourism sector so, with no particular axe to grind, I'm going to offer a few opinions on what I've observed and where I think the potential lies.

It's obviously been a tough few years for many in tourism.

A global financial crisis, natural disasters in Japan and in Christchurch, ash clouds, a massive shift in global markets from west to east, and fuel-price concerns have caused pain for many tourism businesses.

However, without belittling the challenges the broader tourism industry is facing, I do question the approach to those challenges.


I've heard an awful lot of problems raised but not nearly as many solutions offered or opportunities developed.

In my view, our fragmented and, at times, parochial tourism industry is far too slow in shifting its mind-set from being a passive "victim" of global market trends to figuring out how to make the most of them.

I'm bored with hearing people moaning or lamenting the latest blow to their particular tourism business or seeking Government-led fixes.

As if the Government could even do much about it.

Here is what I see as the new reality.

The global architecture of air-travel, as it affects us in New Zealand, has well and truly tilted towards Asia. Asia is the new global growth engine, closely followed by Australasia and the Americas. Full stop.

There's simply no point waiting for growth in some of our traditional European markets to come back.

In some cases they never will, in others you'll probably grow old waiting. Adapt or wither.

Succeeding in Asia and other growth markets will rely on a collective ability to move on from yesterday's tourism and aviation dynamics and develop relevant product and effective channels to market.

As a small country with a small voice, it's damn hard to position a quality product through a highly fragmented sales channel in a very crowded market such as Asia.

This is why our tourism industry isn't getting enough value - that equation needs to change and it's the industry's job to change it, not the Government's.

From an airport perspective, old-fashioned models of airports as passive gateways no longer apply. In fact, New Zealand needs its airports to actively help develop markets because airlines can't do it all on their own even if they wanted to, and we can't expect national and regional marketing funds to do all the work either.

So, what do I think will make a difference in future? I'd like to see a tourism industry which is more positively focused, adaptive and ambitious - which is why Auckland Airport unveiled its Ambition 2020 programme at the recent Trenz conference in Queenstown.

Future success requires the industry to understand changing global markets, build real insight into the wants and needs of the next generation of visitors, particularly from Asia, and develop the services and products to match.

It means collectively addressing the structural challenges of being a small voice competing in a massive and fragmented global market. Future success will also be powered by working better with local and central Government - giving them actual commercial proposals and offering solutions to help remove barriers instead of going on about the industry's problems or asking for hand-outs.

The fact is that much of Government, on both sides of the house, regards tourism, despite its importance to our economy, as a relatively low-value or low-productivity industry.

It's up to the industry to prove its worth, not preach to them that they're wrong.

One thing we know already is that air-links are a key enabler - they drive tourism and trade growth much more than brand advertising or trade missions ever can.

It's no accident that Chinese visitor numbers were up over 75 per cent in April against the previous April. It's because we doubled the direct air-capacity between New Zealand and China.

So where do I see our tourism future in 20 years, if we can get it right?

I see New Zealand as a preferred destination for key growth markets and high-value visitors, winning more than our natural market share.

I see much more effective tourism product packaging and distribution, tailored to new visitor markets.

I see ambitious national visitor targets back-solved for the number of flights needed to physically deliver them - and the industry aligned in support of the airlines willing to have a go. I see airports, hotels and tourist service providers expanding to accommodate the growth in visitors that are being delivered by bold airline growth plans and offering highly tailored product relevant to each market and customer segment.

I see technology giving our visitors much more control and choice in their travel experience.

I see New Zealand as the global hub of choice between Asia, Australasia and the Americas, benefiting from the increasing flow of people and goods between these regions.

I see the tourism industry widely recognised as the highest value export industry in the country, driving our economic growth agenda and funding our national aspirations.

And I see all these new visitors using the Telecom global roaming network to show all their family and friends back home just what a magical place New Zealand can be.