Govt support needed with workforce tipped to soar from 94,000 to 130,000 in next decade.

With tourism aiming to topple dairy as the nation's biggest export earner, a tourist industry group wants more thought given to where funding is spent rather than wanting more direct cash from the Budget.

In one pre-Budget announcement the Government said an extra $33 million would be spent over the next four years to boost the number of immigration officers at a time of record-breaking visitor numbers but there is little sign of any direct boost in funding.

Tourism Industry Association chief executive Chris Roberts said the industry was not expecting any major announcements.

Chris Roberts.
Chris Roberts.

Two years ago Prime Minister John Key, who is also Tourism Minister, announced a $40 million-a-year boost to marketing the country overseas and Roberts said this appeared to be sufficient.

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"We're not seeing a need for any more money to go to Tourism New Zealand, we think that's adequate - they may need some flexibility in how they spend that."

Tourism New Zealand has a total budget of about $115 million a year and has expanded into what it has identified as high-growth markets in Brazil and Indonesia. It has also increased its push into marketing to the high-end market and business events.

Roberts said any emphasis on business events - conventions in New Zealand - needed to be re-thought.

"Particularly with any delay in convention centres it may well be that Tourism NZ could usefully spend that money elsewhere because it's hard to market buildings that don't exist yet."

Convention centre proposals in Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown have been hit by delays and New Zealand was a decade behind Australia in building new centres or redeveloping existing ones, he said.

"It's clear that this is a part of the tourism sector that New Zealand is woefully behind on," said Roberts, who is at the industry's annual showcase, Trenz, in Rotorua this week. "There just seems to be endless talking and every few months there seems to be another delay."

He said almost every convention centre in the world his association knew of had been built with local government or central government help and that was needed here. It was hard for any convention centre owner to build an economic case given that benefits are spread throughout the whole community.

Roberts said the tourism industry was in a high growth phase. Latest government figures show spending by overseas visitors was expected to climb by close to 6 per cent a year for the next six years.

According to industry association figures tourism earned $10.3 billion in exports in the last full year measured, compared to about $13 billion for the dairy sector.

He was not expecting any major funding announcements directed at tourism in the Budget but Roberts said the industry would like more government support for tourism training.

In an NZIER paper released on Monday, it is estimated the number of workers directly employed in tourism will increase from 94,000 to 130,000 in the next decade.

"We are going to see more and more tourists coming here and the industry wants to work with the Government to promote tourism as an area to get into. The Government has quite rightly seen the need for more scientists and engineers but quite literally we can't all be rocket scientists so there's a great need for people in the tourism sector as well."

Tourism Export Council chief executive Lesley Immink wanted government action on the labour shortage in tourism hotspots, Queenstown in particular.

While there had been a relaxation of rules over the summer allowing businesses to more easily hire foreign workers, this ended on June 30 just as the ski season was to swing into full gear and there was no sign of an extension.

"We are really disappointed about this," Immink said.

Delays caused by red tape, especially granting of resource consents, was also harming the sector which is predominantly comprised of small and medium-size businesses.

Roberts said another government agency, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, should do more to try to encourage investment in infrastructure overseas.

Australia actively sought out potential investors in hotels and other facilities for tourists and New Zealand should do the same.

"Our view is that NZTE has put too great a role in helping New Zealand export businesses get set up overseas but they could play a very vital role in helping to attract capital into New Zealand. We know the Government is looking at this area - we think there's a real opportunity."

Roberts said his association was, through its members, doing what it could to educate drivers on the risks on New Zealand roads but targeted government spending could help.

"Part of the solution is improving key roads - making some sensible road improvements by putting in more laybys," he said.

"Visitors want to stop and take photos but we take the wrong approach. We know there's a spot that may be dangerous so we put yellow lines there instead of putting in a layby area so they can safely pull over and take photos."

He said while the Government had made a big investment in marketing, the industry also needed more data and analysis.

"I guess it might sound a little unusual that the private sector is asking for more money to be spent on bureaucrats but we think the drive for efficiency has gone too far with the Governments's own capabilities in this area."

The wishlist

Tourism industry groups want:

• Redeployment of funds from pushing NZ convention centres overseas until they're built.
• More government funding of training courses to meet surging demand for workers.
• Further relaxation on rules for hiring foreign workers to meet skills shortage in tourism hotspots.
• Resource Management Act changes to make it easier for operators to build.
• More work by NZTE to encourage foreign investment in tourism infrastructure here.
• Spending on laybys for visiting drivers to stop and take pictures.
• More government spending on data and analysis.