Think you've seen it all? A lot of us do. It's one of the attitudes Tourism New Zealand is working to change to get more people to see more of the country. It's all about helping the local industry survive the pandemic and the loss of overseas visitors.
Let there be road trips, said the Prime Minister, and it came to pass – sometimes on a blind corner (see Truck stop). Just days into level 1, convoys of campervans hit the roads as a newly liberated citizenry set out to enjoy their freedom. We chose to go hard and go away, if only for the weekend.
We always have been keen domestic travellers, ever since the days we obeyed the marketers' injunction not to leave town till we'd seen the country. Before Covid-19, according to Tourism New Zealand, 60 per cent ($23.7 billion) of tourism expenditure came from New Zealanders travelling at home.
Traditionally, the affluent among us have flown north in winter to soak up the sun of the islands, the Gold Coast, or the Mediterranean. This year, they pulled on their puffer jackets and took their special dietary requirements to Queenstown, Rotorua and other, less-visited spots.
The industry is relieved. "It's been great to see [people] take up the call to explore their backyard," says Andrew Wilson, interim chief executive of Destination Rotorua. "And we hope to see more people investing in a New Zealand holiday in the same way that they would in international travel."
Spend up, in other words. The industry has been doing what it can to make it easier for us to do that. "We've been actively encouraging locals to support and explore local businesses through our marketing campaigns," says Wilson. "By promoting special deals for locals, we've been encouraging them to buy products from local businesses and make the most of the world-class activities and attractions in our backyard."
According to Tourism New Zealand, locals travelling locally want the same rush they have been getting overseas.
"When you ask what Kiwis look for on an international holiday," says Bjoern Spreitzer, general manager domestic at Tourism New Zealand, "they say: I want to go somewhere where I can relax, see new things and learn new things."
They have also been motivated by a public-spirited desire to sink some of their travel dosh into the country's biggest - and one of its hardest-hit – industries. At level 1, every region saw more spending this year than for the same period last year, according to Spreitzer.
Which is all well and good, but did anyone ask the tourist industry what it wanted? Where should we go and what should we do to be of most use? Can we hope to make up for big-spending American and Asian visitors? Will we have to rethink one of our core values and start tipping?
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We're already doing quite a lot right, according to Rotorua's Wilson.
"The feedback that we're getting from local businesses is that New Zealanders are more likely to wander around the shops while they are here," he says, "which means retail and cafes benefit from an increase in domestic visitors. They are also more likely to engage with the operators and ask lots of questions - so good customer service becomes a really important part of the visitor experience."
Tourism New Zealand says that 65 per cent of us always go to the same part of the country for our holidays, even though we know there's a lot more to see. If we broadened our local horizons, however, we could be in for some very pleasant surprises. "People don't know they can have the same sort of experiences here that they get when they go overseas," says Spreitzer.
For instance, although we love to take guided tours in Europe, we tend to think that we know all there is to know about things around here and don't need anyone's help.
"Once you have done a guided tour in New Zealand, you realise it is world-class," says Spreitzer. "Something like Footprints Waipoua in Northland turns a tree into an amazing experience.
"We might think of Māori experiences as a hangi and a concert - and they have their place – but around the country, there are so many layers of experiences available. Bike trails will be big – we have some of the world's best infrastructure around those now. And some of the accommodation offerings are world-class. People come from around the world to stay in them."
There are pleasant surprises to be had if you're ready for them.
Louise Roxburgh is customer experience manager at Canopy Tours, where visitors amble through the treetops.
"As Kiwis, we feel we are outdoorsy, says Roxburgh, "then you come to this forest. You don't realise what an old-growth forest is till you come somewhere like this. So it is important to come with an open mind."
TIME Unlimited Tours is an example of a world-class and world-famous, but locally not-so-well-known business tailoring tours with a cultural focus. Pre-pandemic, the multi-award-winning outfit catered entirely for overseas travellers. It rose to the Covid challenge by reorienting its offering entirely for the domestic market. It may even have pivoted.
Company co-founder Ceillhe Sperath echoes that New Zealanders could enjoy putting themselves in the hands of experts more than they are used to.
"When we are overseas, we are adventurous, but less so when at home. [Then] we will do the same stuff," says Sperath. She says if we can trust experts to fix our cars and repair our homes, we can trust them to give us the best travel experience we can have.
The industry also hopes people will take longer breaks, perhaps outside their normal holiday times. The traditional annual pattern has been one big overseas trip and several short local trips.
Wilson says Rotorua has previously relied on international visitors to keep things humming outside school holidays and weekends, which was when New Zealanders came calling. "The city is currently experiencing strong peaks and troughs in demand without a steady flow of overseas visitors," he says.
Which reminds us, whatever happened to the new public holiday and four-day week initiatives to get people travelling locally that the PM floated when we were at level 4?
It would also help tourism businesses if you let them know you're coming. They can plan for and provide a much better service if people don't just turn up unannounced.
"It would be great to get Kiwis to book a bit in advance," says Spreitzer. "That is a big ask, but we have seen people miss out because there has been so much domestic travel. If businesses can see people are coming they can organise staff to cater for them."
Sperath believes travel is a two-way street and encourages people to share their travel feelings so his company can give them what they want. "What is the reason for their travel? What is the motivation for leaving home and exploring or experiencing something at home or beyond? Once we know the 'why', then it is about finding the experiences and operators with the same value base on a social, economic, environmental, cultural and personal level."
Canopy also encourages people to deal directly with them, because then, says Roxburgh, "we can design personalised experiences."
As to the question that may still be uppermost in many minds, no, you don't have to start tipping in emulation of our foreign visitors, according to Spreitzer. Germans don't tip, he says. Lots of people don't tip. If someone looks like they're expecting a tip, you can just say: "It's not in my cultural set." But that still leaves plenty of other things you can do to help keep the tourism industry on top of the world and on top of the pandemic.
One of the most familiar features of the classic Kiwi holiday is the truck crawl – in which you swear and fume behind the wheel as you creep uphill in a line of traffic behind a big, slow-moving rig. With everyone taking their holidays at home this year, there is likely to be even more of it about.
Kyle Quin drives those big trucks. He'd like you to know that if being stuck behind one is infuriating, being in the truck is no less so. You're trying to get somewhere in good time. He's trying to get somewhere alive.
"People just think about getting in front of us," says Quin. "No one likes to be stuck behind a truck, but people have to think about their choices - a few minutes out of their day to get home safely, or take the risk and pass us and you're dealing with a serious matter."
He feels your pain but says, "It makes life difficult for us. The first thing on our mind is other people's safety - the damage and injuries we could cause if we make mistakes."
He has been lucky in his more than 10 years at the wheel of the big rigs - but there have been some frighteningly close calls.
"It's amazing how many people we see texting. Anyone passing me will have their phone in their lap. One close call I had, she must have been texting. She was heading straight at me, looked up and saw me, got a fright, swerved to the left, put her back wheels into loose metal, tried to over-correct because she knew she would spin out and I looked in the mirror and she had gone off the bank. I got out to help and she was screaming. It wasn't nice."
That situation resolved itself. On another occasion, Quin was spoilt for choice: "A girl pulled straight out of a side road in front of me. She didn't pull to the left, just sat there and didn't see me. I had to either pass on the left and put the truck on its side, or hit her and kill her, or take the risk of going to the right of her into oncoming traffic. I took it to the right and passed her on double yellow lines. Cars coming towards me that saw what was happening pulled to the left and let me through." Quin caught up with the driver and made his feelings known.
"It is hard for people to understand what sort of situation we are in because they don't do it," he says. "We are not out there to be a pain in the arse. We are moving freight around the country." People say: "All you do all day is sit on your arse. All I'm doing all day is scanning and watching the traffic - that is what tires you out."
What Quin is trying to say is that, as we go about our job of supporting the tourist industry, truck drivers would appreciate our support in their mission of not killing us. They would like us to be patient, see the road through their eyes, and - as someone once said – be kind.