There are fears that a lack of young people wanting to embark on careers in tourism could stall New Zealand's top export earner.

Tourism is now worth a whopping $36 billion annually.

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment is predicting a 27 per cent increase in the number of jobs in the sector within the next three years.

An estimated 16,000 new roles will be needed to be filled in Auckland alone where about 76,000 would be working in the industry.


But a Tourism Youth Perceptions Research conducted by the Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) and Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA) found young people were reluctant to sign up a career in the industry.

They perceive tourism jobs did not pay well, were low-status, anti-social, temporary and with limited career pathways.

Dr Shelagh Mooney, postgraduate hospitality programme leader at AUT University, said there was a big concern about "the very big gap between projected 'people needs' of the sector and young people seeking a fulfilling tourism career".

The industry was plagued with structural and employment issues, she said, which needed to be addressed at Government policy and industry level.

"Current employment practices, such as casual insecure work arrangements and minimum wage rather than living wage results in an unsustainable drain of talent," Mooney said.

"The lack of visible career paths exacerbates the high turnover."

Simon Milne, professor of tourism at AUT and director of New Zealand Tourism Research said the industry would be a major employer of Kiwis for the foreseeable future.

But the supply and overall quality of the tourism workforce was an issue that needed to be urgently addressed, he said.


"This is the bedrock upon which a successful tourism industry is built upon," he said.

"A key issue to be addressed is that this is not just the perception of young people but also of their parents and in many cases career advisors – this creates a vicious cycle that is difficult for the industry to escape from."

A campaign to be launched next month by ATEED aims to dispel some of the perceived barriers that young people have towards a tourism career.

Getting young people into tourism jobs was one of the key strategic imperatives listed in the Destination AKL 2025 strategy introduced last year.

"The campaign creates a new platform for awareness and discussion, and also brings a clear focus to the long term employment opportunities within the tourism sector," said ATEED general manager destination Steve Armitage.

"An online platform will enable employers to connect to talent direct, and enable our youth to explore potential career opportunities, showing them the pathways available and highlighting that there are high paying jobs within the tourism sector."


He said there would also be discussions with central government about how tourism can be better recognised in the school curriculum and reflected in policy.

"We are in this project for the long haul and see it as critical to supporting the sustainable growth of the visitor economy," Armitage added.

TIA chief executive Chris Roberts said the research also showed that pay was not the major driver for those seeking tourism careers.

"Having a fun and interesting job is more important for many," he said.

Roberts said three of the 10 chief executive salaries recorded in NZ were in the tourism sector.

"Our research found there is a lack of understanding of the range of opportunities and careers available in the sector," he said.


Many people thought of tourism jobs as either flight attendants or travel agents, Roberts said, but there was a wide range of other opportunities.

University of Auckland marketing graduate Yolanda Zhang, 25, who actively searched for tourism jobs after graduating, believed there is a good future for her in the industry.

Zhang was a management trainee at Marriott International in China and is now a marketing executive with the NZ China Travel and Tourism Association.

"This is an industry that offers many different opportunities and the possibility of working almost anywhere in the world," said Zhang, who has been working for three months in her tourism role.

"This job is my first in NZ . . . and I believe it can be a great stepping stone to much bigger things in the future."