After a 2020 hiatus due to Covid-19, the New Zealand Tourism Awards are returning this year to celebrate the tourism industry's individual and business successes.
Several Northland tourism hotspots have previously received this recognition and the former winners are now looking at the award ceremony, to be held on September 1 in Hamilton, as a sign of support and celebration.
Waitangi Treaty Grounds chief executive Greg McManus says he is looking forward to the awards night and believes it is nice to receive an acknowledgement from the industry.
The Treaty Grounds won the 2017 ServiceIQ Visitor Experience Award and the 2016 Maori Tourism Award.
McManus hopes to enter the nominations through the Visitor Experience Award and He Kai Kei Aku Ringa Maori Tourism Award categories.
The tourism operator suffered a significant loss of tourism since the borders closed last year, because more than 50 per cent of the visitors were international tourists.
However, McManus says they saw the number of domestic tourists increase greatly.
"We have had more domestic crowd in this one year than any other time."
Commenting about the importance of tourism awards, he said, "It is more about supporting the travel industry by taking part in it. It is also about the celebration of tourism as it has been, and will continue to be, a rough couple of years for the tourism industry."
The Australian travel bubble has helped the business as they are starting to get more Australian bookings for the summer ahead.
"This bubble will have a huge impact on the tourism industry in Northland.
"As for the rest of the world, we hope to get back on track once the borders open by the end of 2022 or early 2023. This depends on the vaccination drive in different countries and how well the pandemic is contained."
The 2017 and 2015 Business awards finalist Dive! Tutukaka owner Jeroen Jongejans said they used to receive about 15,000 visitors a year before Covid-19 with 50 per cent of those international tourists.
"Our demographics have completely changed since last year and we had to adapt and change our business model. We had support from New Zealand domestic visitors and we changed according to their needs. We had to cut down on diving and focused more on snorkelling for the Kiwi crowd.
"It's been quite a journey. We've all readjusted our businesses.
"We are very grateful to get through the year and it is fantastic that we can celebrate our industry now."
Jongejans is still considering whether to take part in the nominations.
"Usually when you take part in awards you take a year to assess your business and decide a correct category, but given the unusual year we had due to Covid-19, it is very challenging.
"People have lost confidence in travelling and the on/off transtasman bubble has added to the confusion and fear. The Australian travel bubble is important, but not that significant to us, as we have more European and USA visitors."
Jongejans says the awards are very special because it gives them a chance to assess their business model from an external point of view.
"It gives you time to analyse what you've been doing with your business and ways to improve it.
"Secondly, it is a celebration of things that you've achieved.
"It's really pleasing to see the tourism awards coming back. This is a sign that things are getting back to normal after missing out on one year."
Rock Adventure Paihia owner Sarah Greener, who was a finalist for the Emerging Tourism Leader Award in 2015, said Covid was a major setback for the tourism industry.
"Covid affected us massively last year. Eighty five per cent of our visitor numbers before Covid was international base. The only domestic crowd we attracted were school kids. Since lockdown, we have basically disappeared.
"We have increased the number of charters, we have started yoga retreats, family reunions, birthday parties and all sorts of other activities to stay in business. We tried different strategies such as gift vouchers and gave a major advertising push to it."
"Last year we only had a domestic crowd and that kept us afloat marginally."
Greener is looking forward to potentially take part in the Resilience and Innovation Award nominations.
"We flipped our business according to the domestic need.
"We are starting to see some advanced Australian bookings which we did not get last year. Although the bookings are for January and February next year, it is still a good thing."
Greener says this award brings a level of certainty that "if it is award-winning, it must be good".
"It is a lovely label from the marketing point of view.
"The award ceremony is a way of conversation among the tourism industry about how well each one of us is doing.
"I think it is nice to be back and running and it proves just how resilient and adaptable our tourism industry is.
"During Covid lockdown and since then, over 40 per cent of the employees were let go and numerous businesses have been lost. The ability for the industry to come back and celebrate the awards is a great sign that the Tourism Industry of Aotearoa (TIA) is very supportive and has pushed us through hard times."
Winners will be announced at a special awards dinner in Hamilton following Tourism Summit Aotearoa, keeping attendees' costs down by combining these two events on the tourism calendar. Both events are organised by Tourism Industry Aotearoa.
TIA communications manager Ann-Marie Johnson said that last year was a significantly difficult year for the New Zealand tourism industry and it felt inappropriate to hold the awards night in 2020.
"With the borders closed, we did not have any international tourism.
"The domestic tourism did very well and with the opening of transtasman bubble this year, it seemed like a good time to celebrate the achievements over the last 12 months."
With regard to the loss suffered by the tourism industry across the country last year, Johnson said it is very difficult to put an exact amount to it. However, the loss is estimated to be $12 billion in the last 12 months.