Backyard Tourism

On a sunny day there is nowhere more magical to me than my home town Rotorua. Like anywhere else in New Zealand the natural beauty seems to be highlighted by the glimmering rays of sunshine bouncing off our forests and lakes.

We take for granted our natural resources and cultural hot spot that has drawn tourists to our city for decades. Our people are our heart.

We live side by side with tourists sharing the beauty of these lakes and forests, allowing each tourist to feel a connection to this place we call home.

The geothermal activity and living breathing Maori culture is interwoven through every aspect of our people. Te Reo is alive and well and being cultivated by all as we embrace the uniqueness of our bi-cultural city.

Like other special places around New Zealand we are one of the few cities that make its livelihood largely based on international and domestic tourism.  We rely on showcasing our natural wonders, adventure based activities and our culture to create income for so many families and people living in Rotorua.

I am scared and sad for our city. The hustle and bustle usually found on our city streets will take a long time to return. Many businesses, tourist ventures, hospitality services and families will be affected by the pandemic Covid-19 and the road to recovery we now face.

The flow on effects from businesses forced to close will be massive. I talked to Haley Hodge, a local Rotorua Tourism, Geography and Social Studies teacher who has been inspiring her students about tourism for the past 16 years.

When I asked her what she felt was the biggest issue facing tourism in New Zealand since the outbreak of Covid-19 on our shores and the subsequent level four lockdown, she had a lot to say.   She feels that “the issue that will cause the greatest impact to many tourism businesses in New Zealand and specifically Rotorua is the closed borders and the long time it will take for international tourists to return when our border restrictions are lifted.”

Haley continues “International tourism contributes $18 billion a year to New Zealand, it is the largest export industry in the country (more than dairy or forestry) at 20% of  New Zealand’s total export earnings, so this will hit New Zealand hard. This is not just an impact for the tourism industry, it will have a flow on effect to many other industries in New Zealand; without income, tourism businesses won’t be able to spend on expansion so perhaps the building industry will feel an impact; without hospitality businesses being open (or in later alert levels, busy) the food production businesses may feel an impact etc.”

“Another huge impact is the staffing. Tourism is an industry that employs a huge amount of people (8% in New Zealand and approx 23% in Rotorua). Many of these are low wage positions so this will be a massive blow to families that live week to week and who are now relying on the wage subsidy and/or have lost their jobs.”

Haley is quick to add that of recent times “many New Zealand tourism businesses have become more environmentally sustainable and as a consequence, many have shifted from the model of having 100 tourists come to visit and spend $10 each, to instead attracting 10 tourists that spend $100 each, meaning less environmental impact, whilst maintaining or increasing income.  This poses a problem now that the big spending tourists will not be visiting from overseas for a while. These are the tourists that we as locals, seldom see, the ones that pay $2000 a night for [boutique] lodge accommodation and $500 for personalised activity tours etc.”

“This is traditionally not the sort of spending that New Zealanders are known for. So even if New Zealanders are encouraged to ‘see their own country before seeing the world’ as I’ve seen [advertised], I worry that our kiwi bargain hunting nature will not go anywhere near being enough to plug the hole left by international tourism.”

Haley acknowledges that domestic tourism is already a huge contributor to tourism revenue, spending more money than the total of international tourists (New Zealanders spend more than international tourists at $23 billion a year in NZ) and she understands that “tourism businesses will target marketing and shift their product to promote more domestic business, but sadly, I believe, it won’t be enough and we will feel the economic impact of these measures for a long time to come.”

By encouraging New Zealanders to “shop local, including doing things in our country that you have always wanted to do – go whale watching, go zip lining, go see a Maori cultural experience, go visit something that you’ve always thought was ‘only for foreigners’” Haley believes “you might be surprised at the high quality / entertaining / well worth the money product you’ve been missing out on.”

She says “don’t always expect a local’s discount! Use your Air NZ credit to fly somewhere in New Zealand (and pay the little extra if necessary) instead of waiting for borders to open up to take that quick trip away to Sydney that you had to put on hold, for example.”

Haley is positive when she talks about saving Rotorua’s major livelihood industry.  I asked her what our council can do to help save businesses affected. 

“The Rotorua tourism industry employs 23% of our city’s workforce and earns $845 million a year so this will have a big impact and again not just on the tourism businesses but on those that supply and service them also. The Tourism Industry Aotearoa surveyed hundreds of tourism businesses this week and some suggestions of what local governments could do to help included freezing rate increases, providing fee and concession relief.”

“I think our RTO (Regional Tourism Organisation) Destination Rotorua, does a fantastic job of promoting our region domestically and internationally, the council can’t stop this now to save money, keep spending to keep our profile domestically and internationally so our recovery isn’t so long, but be mindful of the businesses that have lost income and not increase membership rates to supplement this marketing.” 

Last night’s live programme “Rebuilding Paradise with Paul Henry” focused on tourism and the gigantic economical impact that the affects of Covid-19 has had on this $41 Billion dollar a year industry. While only $17 Billion comes from international tourism it is a huge chunk of the tourism revenue pie. 

Paul Henry spoke to Stephen England-Hall, NZ Tourism CEO about how he could see New Zealand’s tourism industry go from ‘surviving to thriving’.

With over 300-400 thousand New Zealander’s employed in the tourism industry across Aotearoa, the impacts and effects will be felt far and wide.  How will Tourism NZ, led by CEO Stephen England-Hall help tourism operators to survive and navigate through the uncertainty they are currently facing and will do for some time?

There is a possibility of over 100,000 potential job losses in the tourism sector. What innovative ways will tourism operators be able to survive?

Stephen England-Hall mentioned that after conversations had recently, it is important in the future that our tourism “industry gives back more than it takes.”  He says the tourism industry needs to be “good for our environment, good for our communities, uplifting of our culture and of course, ultimately, provides back economically too.”

It will be important that local and national tourism operators look to move away from marketing not only to overseas tourists but also provide packages, activities and adventures more tailored to everyday New Zealanders.

The priority now is ensuring that as many of these tourism ventures survive as possible. How can tourism operators protect their businesses, look after their staff, reduce costs and look to ways to improve business in this new normal way of living once we are post Covid-19?

Domestic tourism makes up over half of the tourism revenue each year and therefore it will be important to maintain our interest as we make more careful choices about where to spend our money? Money that is usually spent on overseas travel and adventures can hopefully now be spent locally and nationally on holidays in our own country.  

Many other factors will play a part in the rebuilding of the tourism sector.  Kiwis face uncertainty over their own employment, loss of income and the direction our country will take to recover economically in the wake of a Level four lockdown from Covid-19. 

When Paul Henry asked specifically about Rotorua and Queenstown, my ears pricked up more, after all this is my original worry.

Stephen England-Hall replied that he was “absolutely” worried.  “We are very concerned about those parts of New Zealand whose economies are largely based or almost entirely based on the tourism industry. ‘Cause not only is it just the peoples jobs or businesses… at risk, but the flow on impacts communities.”

Cafes, restaurants, bars, transport (airport /buses / taxis / Uber), entertainment venues, sports events or games are all impacted by the reduction in numbers who would of potentially visited our city in the coming year.

“The flow on is huge.” Paul Henry interjected.

Not only does Rotorua along with other tourism based cities and towns need to look at how to keep New Zealanders visiting in the next twelve months, nationally and internationally, we need to continue to market New Zealand as a destination worth saving up for, worth returning to once the border controls are open and international travel can resume.  

Our New Zealand brand needs to stay active. We need to continue to be in the forefront of the rest of the worlds minds so that one day tourists will once again return to New Zealand as a safe and amazing place to visit.

Perhaps in the short term a South Pacific overseas travel bubble may open up and be introduced which would allow travel between Australia, Pacific Islands and New Zealand. This would potentially help to boost tourism revenue for our neighbours as well as ourselves. Slowly and surely as more countries gain control over the Covid-19 situation and / or a vaccine is introduced, more countries can be added to our overseas travel bubble as well. It is something to hope for anyway.

Start planning and saving up to explore your own country. There is no better way to have quality experiences and holidays while also helping our communities survive.

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