Investment vital to sustain thriving tourism, writes Tash McGill.

On a global scale, New Zealand is an award-winning little tourism triumph. Our barriers to being a destination of choice are straightforward - we're far away and, yes, we're expensive. Yet visitors keep pouring off the planes and will continue to arrive because, let's be honest, New Zealand is pretty damn great. Tourism New Zealand and Air New Zealand (among others) are doing a great job of selling tickets. But we need serious focus to flourish in the next five years.

Our tourism product urgently needs investment and New Zealanders need to be more engaged in our No1 export industry. About 80 per cent of our tourism industry operators are small business owners without the capital to support the infrastructure and marketing activity required and we can't rest on the laurels of Hobbits, scenic landscapes and bungy jumping too much longer.

New Zealanders should want a sustainable industry that can support the Tourism Industry Association's 2025 revenue goal of $41 billion. We already know what the TIA's infrastructure assessment (due any day) will tell us. We're missing a critical middle layer of industry throughout our 16 regions, most of all outside Auckland, Rotorua, Queenstown and Wellington.

Contrary to some reports, New Zealand isn't full - we're just busy in the top four spots in peak season. The answer is already in play by Tourism New Zealand - peak season sells itself offshore so the marketing focus is on shoulder season. But the regions we want to grow can't afford the development required themselves and the Regional Mid-sized Tourism Facilities Fund only has $12m to invest over the next four years. A more realistic figure might be $50m, not to mention ongoing marketing and product development. Of those 80 per cent of tourism operators, many operate marketing budgets of less than $25,000 a year.


It's not just another hotel and public toilet block development. The boats won't stop coming so we need better cruising facilities, new outdoor products and resources, transport, hospitality and communications facilities. And while we're at it, we need a national strategy to boost domestic tourism - getting New Zealanders exploring our brilliant country. The international strategy is simple - once they buy a ticket the spend is guaranteed, so encourage visitors to stay longer, visit more regions and they'll spend more money. It's been successful but increasing domestic spend will benefit everyone.

Not least, getting more New Zealanders out into their own country will help product development and, I'd say, national pride. Increasing domestic tourism could potentially add serious value to overall industry revenue, while helping refine regional offerings.

But who will lead the charge, deliver the plan and bring together what's required to achieve the necessary change? TIA isn't a spending body with the power to deliver all that we require but they have initiated the strategic roadmap the industry needs. Their recommendations and priorities could be the catalyst required to get us moving. It is exactly this kind of national strategy that will promote sensible development while increasing economic impact. Most importantly, adhering to manaakitanga, kaitiakitanga and delivering a visitor experience that every New Zealander can be proud of.

We need a strong, cohesive and unifying leader for our domestic industry who can deliver the infrastructure plan alongside enhanced marketing strategy across all tiers of industry. Because New Zealand is pretty damn great and more of us should be enjoying it to the fullest.