New Tourism Minister Stuart Nash has delivered a blunt message to tourism operators, saying there will be no return to a pre-Covid "business as usual" - and proposing a "reset" targeting wealthy tourists rather than freedom campers and backpackers.
Speaking at the Tourism Industry Aotearoa conference in Wellington, Nash said the fact the conference was able to meet in person was testament to the effectiveness and the need for a strong border policy.
He said there would be no "travel bubbles" until it was deemed safe to do so.
However, New Zealand was well-placed to capitalise on its reputation for its handling of Covid-19 once those border restrictions started easing and should take the opportunity to reset the tourism industry.
"My ambition is that once global borders open, New Zealand is considered by the world's most discerning travellers as one of the top three places in the world to visit."
Nash said it was his belief that the New Zealand tourism sector should target high-spending tourists in the future – and charge them more so local communities were not footing the bill for infrastructure and environmental impacts of tourism.
Nash said he had asked officials to come up with some proposals to reduce the cost of tourism to the country.
"This includes ensuring visitors pay for the privilege of participating in the New Zealand experience.
"No longer will New Zealand communities tolerate the worst of our freedom camping visitors, and nor should they. Some, but not all, have abused our renowned hospitality.
"I firmly believe that the low-spending but high-cost tourist is not the future of our tourism industry."
Nash said tourism had put extra costs on small communities struggling with infrastructure, and congestion in prime sites such as national parks.
"New Zealanders should not be subsidising international visitors to the extent that we have done in the recent past."
In his address, TIA head Chris Roberts said that for Nash's goal to be achieved, tourism businesses had to be able to survive in the meantime. That would require further government assistance.
"We are going to need more support for viable tourism businesses. There are many sound, profitable, sustainable businesses who just can't reach their customers at the moment because they're on the other side of the closed border.
"How do we make sure they're still around when the borders re-open? Because, as the minister said, if people come here and have a bad experience that will do us enormous damage.
"And one reason they may have a bad experience is we have lost too many tourism businesses, or we have too many under-resourced businesses."
He said the tourism industry also needed to know what the plan was for re-opening the borders, including what criteria the Government would use to decide on any "bubbles" and what discussions it was having with other countries.
He said the domestic market had helped, especially in the school holiday months, but by December about $10 billion would have been lost compared to 2019. Roberts said that was more than if the entire fruit and vegetable sector was wiped out.
He said the wage subsidies had been the biggest contribution so far, estimating $2-3b of the $14b had gone to tourism related businesses. However, longer term help was needed.
Nash said the Government would continue to work with the tourism sector to ensure it survived the Covid-19 border restrictions.
It had already offered up a $400 million Tourism Recovery Package, and almost $2b of wage subsidy support had gone to tourism operators.
Those businesses had also drawn down about $285m in interest-free loans, making up about 18 per cent of the small and medium-sized businesses to use the loans scheme.