The Government is spending more than $230 million on ''strategic'' tourism businesses in a move it says will protect up to 3000 jobs in the sector hammered by the pandemic.

This round of funding is unlikely to attract the same heat as when up to $10.2m was allocated to AJ Hackett Bungy last month as initial amounts to many of the country's best-known attractions are just 5 per cent of that.

Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis today released the first batch of 126 businesses that would receive a $500,000 grant in the first year and then be eligible for soft loans as part of a package that could total $245m. The amount of the loan would be determined by individual business cases.

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He also announced $50 million for a regional events fund, $20m inbound tour operator loan scheme $10m to lift digital capability in the sector.

The 48 strategic businesses released today range from Kelly Tarlton's in Auckland to Larnach Castle in Dunedin.

The Government copped flak after granting $5.1m (and a possible loan of the same amount) to AJ Hackett Bungy last month because of the wealth of the operation's owners who include NBR richlister Sir John Davies.

But Davis has defended the grant which was made following an urgent request from the company, which said it would save the jobs of 83 staff. Whale Watch Kaikōura received $1.5m and Discover Waitomo up to $4m under the Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme.

More than 300 businesses have applied for funding from the ''bespoke'' programme that is aimed at ensuring that strategic tourism assets that generate a wider range of benefits aren't lost. According to Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment criteria the assets should be nationally and/or internationally recognised, a key attraction and one without which tourism to the region would be significantly diminished.

Tourism Industry Aotearoa described the announcement as underwhelming

Chief executive Chris Roberts says while operators are grateful for all the Government assistance that has been provided to date, especially the wage subsidy, the latest funding falls short of what is needed to ensure the industry is in a position to rebuild when our borders reopen.

"Prior to the pandemic, tourism in New Zealand was a $112 million per day industry. Much of the package is actually loans that will have to be paid back, but even at $300 million is equivalent to less than three days of tourism's contribution to New Zealand's economy," he said


"As we pointed out in the joint industry letter I delivered to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday, businesses suffering directly from the necessity to have border restrictions will need a supportive Government partner for the foreseeable future. Thousands of vulnerable workers remain desperately worried about their futures.''

Funding decisions are made by the Tourism Recovery Minister's Group, comprising Davis, Finance Minister Grant Robertson, Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta, Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage and the Under-Secretary for Regional Economic Development Fletcher Tabuteau.

Larnach Castle, Dunedin is part of the strategic tourism business programme. Photo / Supplied
Larnach Castle, Dunedin is part of the strategic tourism business programme. Photo / Supplied

Davis said the package would support tourism operators of all sizes and types including Māori cultural attractions, adventure activities, scenic tours, and zoos, aquariums and wildlife encounters across Aotearoa.

The $50m for the Regional Events Fund would help drive domestic tourism and the $20m in loans for inbound tour operators would prepare them for ''when international travel resumes,'' he said.

"We're also providing $10m that will help tourism businesses adapt to our current reality by helping them develop digital strategies, access digital tools and benefit from the existing Digital Enablement initiatives.''

Tourism was New Zealand's top foreign exchange earner in the 2018-19 year but has dried up with border closures and flight restrictions.


"We've had to adapt the type of support we're providing to make sure it was targeted, it was sustainable and had the biggest impact possible for the long-term health of the tourism sector".