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Tourism; where to from here.

As Queenstown continues to suffer the body blows to the tourism industry, someone asked me to republish an article that I wrote for Mountain Scene May last year It's timely again now as we await a Destination Management Plan that's being created, looking to position Queenstown for 'regenerative tourism by 2030' - a hellishly difficult task that needs to look back and out to the wider system that tourism is a part of. Of course, the winter of Aussie wallets didn't pan out as we had hoped (and I refer to in the article) - we moved into further lockdowns, and things have generally gone from bad to worse for those in the entire hospitality sector. Also since that article, the government has funded the regional tourism offices of NZ to the tune of $26.5m to support, recover and reset the industry, and to 'progress the goals of the New Zealand-Aotearoa Government Tourism Strategy' which aims to 'Enrich New Zealand-Aotearoa through sustainable tourism growth'.

But anyhow, here's the text of that May article complete with links that still offer cautions that must be addressed: 'As we race towards a winter of welcoming Aussie wallets, and after attending an economic diversification workshop I was wondering, what happened to reshaping our tourism industry?

Over the last several months, I’ve moved from pessimism about the future of tourism through to seeing the potential of a collaborative, systemic approach to making it work as different projects have started identifying new pathways.

The precovid success of our tourism industry was extractive – stripping value from communities, overseas workers and our environment. The result is most people no richer, but now with a hangover of environmental and community degradation. During covid, people and government talked reset and wanted to use the time and space to design something better.

But I want to go back a wee bit further, because productivity is integral to these discussions.

2011. Sir Paul Callahan speech: Strategy NZ Mapping Our Future A myth-busting speech delivering home truths about productivity. Sir Paul calculated the revenue per needed employee to maintain GDP was $120K per job (don’t confuse this with what the employee is paid!) Tourism returned $80k per job, dairy $350K. Compare this with Apple, $1.3m per job. Tourism was taking us backwards about $40k per year, per job. Bluntly, tourism was making us poor. Dairy was better, but had other costs.

April 4, 2021. Blogger Rowan Simpson revisited Paul Callahan’s 2011 speech and checked progress. Not pretty. We are now the hardest working nation in the world for the least output per hour worked. Neither tourism nor tech producing the goods.

18 March, 2021. Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton gave an address at the Otago University Tourism Policy school. He was following up on his 2019 report; Pristine, popular… imperilled? with a set of recommendations in a new report called Not 100% but four steps closer to sustainable tourism. His first of four solutions was to impose a serious departure tax.

April 2020. The government finally releases the Tourism Futures Task Force Report is released. Systemic thinking. Partnerships, collaboration. Rod Oram called it “brave, thoughtful and inspiring” in his Newsroom article.

The task force challenged the Sir Paul tourism productivity figures quoting a Tourism NZ report – Te Ohanga which puts output per tourism employee in the core tourism business at $201,424 (this compares with the non visitor economy output of $213,278 – so still lower than many sectors and doesn’t include supporting industries whose productivity sits at just $120k per FTE).

My pessimism dissipated along with a series of excellent explorations of issues and solutions, calling for systemic change.

The Task Force is clear that we follow it all, or not at all. Somehow our government has missed that message and has stood down the task force, cherry picking some actions rather than committing to the big, systemic change this industry needs. Shame. Pessimism returns.

My hope now is that the tourism industry itself picks up this report and instigates the actions including pressuring government for the necessary regulatory frameworks. There are signs of willingness – nearly 100 people signed up for the Back to Life regenerative tourism course, WAO Wanaka leads hard conversations, Startup Queenstown Lakes and QLDC’s economic development unit celebrates emerging diversity.

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