Tourism was a $17 billion cash cow for the New Zealand economy before Covid-19 choked it.
Tourism New Zealand (TNZ) spent mega taxpayer bucks marketing the country overseas and helped funnel millions of visitors into our national parks and other highly rated spots.
The likes of AJ Hackett, Tourism Holdings' (THL) Waitomo Caves and Whale Watch grew their bottom lines and shareholder wealth as they happily clipped internationally priced tickets.
New Zealand-Aotearoa's Tourism Strategy despite its emphasis on environmental sustainability was trampled by millions of feet as a mass market army of visitors seemingly blocked Kiwis from enjoying their own heritage, like the Great Walks.
To counteract that TNZ spent millions more taxpayer dollars asking visitors to promise (Tiaki Promise) to be good.
But far away from the crowds at Lake Tekapo Church of the Good Shepherd, people filling the bars in Queenstown or the bushes in freedom camping sites, was a whole raft of small tourism businesses who have cared about quality tourism and treading lightly on the environment.
Many of those businesses have long had world recognition for the quality of tourism they offer to New Zealand's international visitors. Whether that be through being recognised by global travel influencers like Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, or Wendy Perrin, or selected to be in some of the world's prestigious tourism groups, these people were high-value assets when it came to promoting New Zealand to the type of traveller that Tourism New Zealand and other government departments only then aspired to understand.
Unfortunately for the New Zealand taxpayer, these small, agile effective tourism operators have been largely ignored by the government machine, which has picked businesses to hand millions in taxpayer money.
Inbound tour operators (ITOs) are a strong, entrepreneurial bunch who feed the tourism eco-system. Without them companies that operate things like iwi-based activities, adventure tours, jetboating, helicopter flights and even luxury lodges and wineries are the poorer - and the country poorer by an estimated $7.2b.
Yes, they have like the rest of New Zealand businesses been able to access the wage subsidies and business loans. They were also offered $5000, but only to be used to pay for advice on how to help their business survive.
Many who took it up say the advice provided was along the lines of build a new website and marketing. Pointless when you have no income to fund it.
Now some ITOs are being offered access to a $20 million loan scheme – nobody in the sector yet knows who and what the criteria will be.
Meanwhile, the Government is funding millions to protect "Strategic tourism businesses" - including companies with a business model that seems to depend on mass-market tourism and those that usually survive on ratepayer funding. Applications are pre-screened at government agency level and then referred to a Ministers group.
Last week many RESET members received a letter to tell them they had been unsuccessful in the Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme (STAPP). They were told on August 1 the list of successful applicants will be released in due course.
But the grapevine has already thrown up names from Wellington Zoo, Howick Historical Village and Rainbow's End, which only record a small percentage of international visitors. Another, Otago Museum, is part ratepayer funded, but it must be noted it generates more than 50% of its income from commercial activities.
The RESET brains trust is large and internationally experienced in business and finance. It has a raft of commercially viable and fiscally efficient strategies for the Government to factor in to successfully reopening New Zealand to the world.
It is happy to share its knowledge. But RESET needs a level playing field first.
- Article provided by RESET (Responsible Environmentally Sustainable Entrepreneurial Tourism).