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Tourism: Death and Revival

Written By: - Date published: 11:30 am, July 19th, 2020 - 26 comments
Categories: economy, Globalisation, tourism, uncategorized - Tags:

New Zealand’s tourism economy has essentially collapsed, and it is part of a global tourism industry collapse that is so big that it may be permanently smaller. But does it have to be?

May overseas visitor arrivals in New Zealand dropped by 217,100 or 99% year-on-year to just over 2,000 people. That’s on a previous 99.4% drop in April.

This may be one of those globals shifts that is so big that our entire tax base will be altered to be lower for the foreseeable future.

The growth of tourism has provided sustainable jobs and massive growth to the global economy over the last two decades.

We have worked for multiple decades to build ourselves as a destination for global travellers, and it has worked. Until this year it directly contributed NZ$16.2 billion (5.8%) of our GDP.

We built an entire national mythos of film and storytelling on our tourism brand – and it was the most successful revival of our economy that we’ve ever had.

That came from our adaptation of a literary masterwork, the Lord of the Rings series from J.R.R. Tolkein.

Without that effort and that series, we would have a far smaller tourism industry over the last decade.

That effort permanently altered how the world sees us – for the better.

And on top of that we have a combination of attractions that we ought to be proud of and to invite the world to see.

As ATEED put it so eloquently, mother earth is breathing, and when we are ready, we will return.

So it’s time we took stock of what we – and the world – have lost with the flatlining of this entire global industry. And maybe just maybe the kind of people we have that can rebuild it.

In 2019 total expenditure was $40.9 billion, an increase of 4% on the previous year. It contributed 20.4% to New Zealand total exports of goods and services. The indirect value of industries supporting tourism added a further 4% of GDP.

It supported 188,000 full-time equivalent jobs or over 7% of our workforce.

Spending by international tourists accounted for 17.1% of our entire export earnings.

Our reputation was so strong that it was the one major industry growth in which our isolation from the world was actually a good thing. $34 billion was contributed to our economy every year as of 2017.

But now even a kick-start to reviving this part of our economy in 2021 is gone. APEC  – for which MBIE, MFAT, and ATEED were in preparation for the last 2 years right down to welding Auckland’s sewer manholes shut for security – is no longer. The America’s Cup is down to four boats. The Auckland Kapa Haka champs are gone, as are all the major international sporting competitions that were to happen next year. With the new Covid-19 breakouts in Australia, there is now no chance of an Australiasian bubble – it’s an Australian bungle.

Cold comfort, but it’s bad around the world. The OECD points to a 60% decline in international tourism in 2020, rising to 80% if recovery is delayed until December. Specific regions with tourism within them – such as Europe – are likely to recover first. New Zealand doesn’t have the luxury of a meaningful internal market to replace that, and never will other than for low-rent camping grounds and the elite who own baches.

Now, some may scoff at this massive industrial decline and essentially sigh relief at the death of 20% of everything we produce and a fifth of our exports. Others see the wholesale destruction as the destruction it is.

It’s too early to determine if this scale of economic loss can be actually replaced. It’s certainly a bigger shock to our country than Britain joining the European Common Market, or the collapse of wool prices in the 1966.

But as Lord of the Rings and 100% Pure New Zealand proved, the one thing we can clearly do is re-invent and even re-mythologise ourselves into confidence that the world will want to see us again. We know this because we’ve done it before.

You see that in the successful Australaisn pitch for the 2023 women’s world footbal cup:

Unusually for government policy, this 20% of our economy will not be revived with concrete and steel like infrastructure spending. Or producing more apples. It will be revived from the work of poets and novelists and film-makers.

It won’t always work:

Yet the legacy of our literary-tourism success is so, so powerful still. Just the first 5 minutes of Stephen Colbert coming here will give you the idea of how sustainable that global pulling power is.

So regaining that 20% of our national effort relies on us being the most powerful and creative storytellers, and translating that into the engine of cultural production that drives our tourism industry once more.

Poets, epic novelists, and grand film-makers, your moment in our national revival awaits.

26 comments on “Tourism: Death and Revival ”

  1. R.P Mcmurphy 1

    what is so hot about the thundering hordes running around the world in an infantile quest for distraction that can never be satisfied. why dont these people stay home and learn how to do something. tourism is stinking up the world and filling the atmosphere with carbon particulates and other pollutants.

    • Alan 1.1

      you sound like a fun type

      • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1

        He's right and so you denigrate him?

        • Climaction 1.1.1.1

          just because it isn't your tourism doesn't mean it has no value, or worse pollutes your won sanctimonious value.

          Shades of my father, love him but will never agree with 1960's fortress NZ

          • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1.1.1

            Tourism is worse than having no value – its almost purely destructive. The GHG emissions and destruction of natural ecosystems all make it not worth the cost.

      • Gabby 1.1.2

        Stinking up the world is much more fun.

  2. Shanreagh 2

    The return of tourists along with the return of overseas students, low paid workers in the tourist industry, often from overseas and the reliance on overseas workers in our agriculture industry are the aspects of a BAU that 'scare' me to be frank.

    We undoubtedly have attractions. We have talented artists like film-makers.

    If we open up again for tourists, and we should on our terms, we need to chart a path that does not have a reliance on freedom campers in campervans that are not fit for purpose.

    Freedom campers in my area are renowned for camping in laybys, along beach front areas. They park there often for several days and the infrastructure there in the form of rubbish collection and toilet facilities is not big enough. This infrastructure is paid for by local authorities and predicated on no camping and day-time use. To enforce it daily/nightly requires local govt money again.

    Walking anywhere in some popular beach or bush areas has got to be an exercise in watching your feet rater than the birdlife etc. We even have tourists defaecating outside provided toilets that are fit for purpose/emptied frequently.

    Looking at the opportunities that a slowdown in tourism is bringing gives us a chance to model OUR future.
    I think our reliance on this low cost structure for tourist dollars and staffing in tourist areas needs a big rethink, ie rethink short term working permits especially where these are in tourist areas, rethink freedom camping, rethink those coming in without adequate means to get home so we do not have to put on mercy flights at NZ expense in the future should Covid-19 or any other catastrophe rear its head.

    We need to do some work on why NZ people have not been travelling in NZ. Some of these NZers will travel overseas so they are not mean spenders. The value for money is sometimes not there in NZ accom and attractions in comparison with some overseas countries/ attractions. The cost is a big thing. Even with all the price reductions that have been going on some of the prices for attractions are still expensive. Accommodation is another. A friend has said he resents having to pay high prices for accommodation in tourist areas that are in places that a higher standard than his own permanent accommodation. We seem to have ripped out a whole lot of accommodation that would be suitable/convenient for travelling NZers that is comfortable, clean and not over the top. I know that Govt agencies have been using some for short-term accom for homeless people.

    High end tourism or those who will not be reliant on low wage jobs or low cost forms of transport/accommodation should be encouraged.

    The wah, wah clamour of the tourist industry should be put to one side with an invitation for them to be part of the solution to NZ's tourism industry for the future. Govt should put some parameters/no go areas that are not on the table so the operators have to use their brains rather then just oiling up their cash registers.

  3. Grafton Gully 3

    The video inks in your article show the promise of remote tourism. Particularly if the overseas consumer controls the camera by instructing a local person, drone or robot to "stop ! I want a closeup of the ice falling, mud boiling, hobbit hole, albatross regurgitating etc. etc. "

    https://visitfaroeislands.com/remote-tourism/

  4. Draco T Bastard 4

    New Zealand’s tourism economy has essentially collapsed, and it is part of a global tourism industry collapse that is so big that it may be permanently smaller. But does it have to be?

    Yes, yes it does.

    The growth of tourism has provided sustainable jobs and massive growth to the global economy over the last two decades.

    No it didn't as proven by climate change.

    We have worked for multiple decades to build ourselves as a destination for global travellers, and it has worked.

    Yeah, yeah. We've been doing the cheap, easy non-developmental stuff like tourism and farming for decades because its, well, cheap and easy.

    Climate change and the ever increasing pollution of our waterways shows that we have to move on from the cheap and easy because its simply not sustainable.

    Without that effort and that series, we would have a far smaller tourism industry over the last decade.

    Not having it would have been better as then we wouldn't have the problems that came with it such as freedom campers shitting in car parks and elsewhere and polluting our land.

    So it’s time we took stock of what we – and the world – have lost with the flatlining of this entire global industry.

    Instead we should be looking at how much its dropped the emissions of greenhouse gases. I think that's far more important.

    Now, some may scoff at this massive industrial decline and essentially sigh relief at the death of 20% of everything we produce and a fifth of our exports.

    The problem being that we didn't look at the destruction that tourism was causing, at how looking only to the cheap and easy had our best and brightest leaving to the rest of the world for a challenge.

    But as Lord of the Rings and 100% Pure New Zealand proved, the one thing we can clearly do is re-invent and even re-mythologise ourselves into confidence that the world will want to see us again.

    And it really was a myth. It was, and still is, unsustainable.

    • Just Is 4.1

      You're right Draco,

      "Yeah, yeah. We've been doing the cheap, easy non-developmental stuff like tourism and farming for decades because its, well, cheap and easy."

      Cheap and easy, the Famous history of NZs attitude to nearly everything, I like to think of it as short sighted.

      The Auckland Harbor bridge is a classic example, in little more than a decade after construction was completed, it needed a doubling of capacity due to increased traffic volumes, the only change since then was the introduction of the moving barrier.

      What that says it was lack vision, the same can said for Sir Dove Myer Robinsons vision of a rail line to the North Shore, everyone shot it down, no vision for anuthing beyond the end of their noses.

      If it's not "cheap and easy" it's probably not worth while…

      NZ could easily gear up industries around wood processing, adding enormous value and a bounty of jobs, but in NZ we'd rather make a quick dollar for shipping raw logs out of NZ.

      Short sighted

  5. Dennis Frank 5

    Excellent spoof, Ad! Looks like you wrote it as if auditioning for a pr job in tourism – good strategy to get the right pitch for satire. There's also a place in Labour's recovery plan for your advocacy. They need to be able to sell business as usual as if it's still gonna work, eh? The positive alternative to facing reality.

    The growth of tourism has provided sustainable jobs and massive growth to the global economy over the last two decades.

    Such a shame that those jobs were sustainable for 20 years but have now vanished. How to pretend that the new reality hasn't really happened? Dunno. Consult whichever hotshot has been awarded the task in the ad agency Labour has hired to frame their campaign media. Such hotshots are always good at fakery. Ask Bob Harvey.

    A word of caution though. Best not to overdo it with the ganja. Those in the know can always tell… 🥴

  6. Stuart Munro 6

    The collapse of tourism is no doubt greeted by the mass of people with as much concern as the industry demonstrated for ordinary folk while it was booming.

    Now, compelled to design for a longer term future, there is at last a slender chance of the gains beginning to outweigh the, mostly externalised, costs.

    There are many alternative industries we ought to be developing. Aquaculture is a sector in which we trail the world, and it is not that we lack the physical capacities, but the expertise and regulatory environment to foster a sustainable sector. I've been writing to MPs about it for decades, but they are too self-involved to care.

    Why single out tourism for support? All it does is crowd locals out of what were once our recreational spaces.

  7. ianmac 7

    Wouldn't it be great if instead of tourism the same people who do the serving and driving and making the beds, were involved in producing carrots or wheels or fish-hooks and products that mean something. I would be prouder of the house I built instead of the work of being a polite escort to a tourist.

    • Molly 7.1

      I worked in hospitality for years when younger. The attitude of some customers indicated that they believed their payment brought them lord-of-manor status for the duration.

      Females or minorities in the industry will also have extra stories of harassment and conflict in the workplace.

      Talking in numbers about jobs without regard for the remuration or security of those jobs, and about the value of tourism's contribution to GDP without how evenly it was distributed or how the externalities impacted on local ratepayers, environment and local wages, disregards the reality. Not to mention, whether those jobs were provided to NZers or international travellers.

      Tourism as it was, was flawed and destructive. International tourists used fossil fuels to get here, and we disregard that cost also, to our shame.

      Figure out a value recovery, which may by necessity be only a partial one.

      Better still – an economic recovery plan that provides NZ tourism workers with employment in industries that are essential for our own wellbeing, environment and communities.

  8. Drowsy M. Kram 8

    "A recent UNWTO report on overtourism in cities recognized the need for the sector to “ensure sustainable policies and practices that minimize adverse effects of tourism on the use of natural resources, infrastructure, mobility and congestion, as well as its socio-cultural impact.”"
    https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/09/global-tourism-sustainable/

    Maybe the on-going Covid-19 pandemic will precipitate a long overdue reset of the global economy, and put our civilisation on a path towards long-term sustainability. Maybe we can finally rid ourselves of the ludicrous conceit that growth is good.

    https://garryrogers.com/tag/limits-to-growth/
    https://mahb.stanford.edu/blog/moving-away-progrowth/
    The current economic system being utilized and internalized relies on perpetual growth. It has long operated counter to the reality that we are confined to a finite planet with finite resources. Yet, this system continues to be practiced and promoted globally. As the environmental and social repercussions of disbelief in limits become increasingly clear, so does our need for a new economic system —one that is not wedded to growth. Neither growth in the number of consumers nor growth in the amount consumed.” – Erika Gavenus

    https://theconversation.com/the-end-of-global-travel-as-we-know-it-an-opportunity-for-sustainable-tourism-133783

    "The COVID-19 pandemic has halted mobility globally on an unprecedented scale, causing the neoliberal market mechanisms of global tourism to be severely disrupted. In turn, this situation is leading to the decline of certain mainstream business formats and, simultaneously, the emergence of others. Based on a review of recent crisis recovery processes, the tourism sector is likely to rebound from this sudden market shock, primarily because of various forms of government interventions. Nevertheless, although policymakers seek to strengthen the resilience of post-pandemic tourism, their subsidies and other initiatives serve to maintain a fundamentally flawed market logic."
    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14616688.2020.1763445

  9. Graeme 9

    Looking around Queenstown over the last two weeks it's hard to see what all the fuss is about. Hospo businesses are very busy, if you're local forget about going out for dinner or a drink, queues everywhere. Only exception seems to be the few businesses that focused exclusively on backpacker or low end Chinese / Indian markets, they're fucked. The other hole in town is all the departed booking agents, that business model has fallen to bits too. If you want to drive across Frankton between 7am and 7pm, take a cut lunch. A domestic only winter school holiday meets a development economy that's going as hard as it can.

    How sustainable this is, only time will tell. Builders are saying they are back to having work ahead, and considerable pressure to get jobs completed, lots of sites working 7 days. This winter will be one week at a time as the school holiday crowd go home and market comes through.

    Longer term the industry will have to get back to putting New Zealanders first again. All the "products" and attractions we have were built on a domestic market, some going back to late 1800's (Milford Track and others). NZR and Tourist and Publicity Departments put a huge effort into building the basis of our tourism industry from the domestic market. That industry consolidated and expanded into the international market when widebody jets came along in the 70's. Progressively the industry has elbowed New Zealanders out of the best we have and replaced them international visitors, leaving New Zealanders feeling rather uncomfortable holidaying at home.

    While New Zealand has a significant inbound tourism industry, we are also significant outbound travellers. In of Jan 2020 we had a seasonally adjusted 322 870 inbound visitors and 265 570 outbound (it was 280 350 in Dec 19) Anecdotal in the industry is that the total value of the two sides is close to equal.

    A third side to the industry is New Zealanders travelling at home, this is around 1.5 – 2 x the size of inbound numbers and spend.

    The biggest company in New Zealand tourism is Auckland International Airport. They are in the driver's seat of the industry. Their profit driver is bums on seats with little differential between the front of the plane to the back, so to drive their profitability we get more bums and less reliability and service. If there's a candidate for re-nationalisation, it's AIA just to put some control over our inbound tourist mix.

    New Zealand Tourism's problem right now isn't the loss of inbound visitors, but rather the reluctance New Zealanders have to travel in their own country. This will change as they have god experiences and re-discover that we have some very cool things to do here, there's that incredible in-bound demand for a reason, and come back for more. That's a word of mouth thing and no amount of publicity and story telling can replace that. in the same way that negative impressions are all spread by word of mouth.

    • Just Is 9.1

      Ah, yes, it would seem some Tourist operators prefer a foreign language as opposed to Kiwi.

  10. Adrian 10

    The numbers atributed to tourism are confusing as they leap around depending on who is spruiking them, but the one thing not in doubt is that the tourism touts have cornered the market in paid bullshitters.

    The America's Cup is down to 4 boats not because of Covid as all the others had dropped out well before that as it is bloody expensive for an event held in the wrong time zone for TV.

    APEC is not tourism.

    The jobs were not sustainable, no jobs are but tourism even more so as war, economic depression and pandemics among others makes it precarious long term.
    A very large number of the 188,000 jobs in tourism are badly paid ones done by young offshore kids on holiday.
    Now, growing stuff, even wool, because people have to eat and clothe themselves, on the other hand….
    This is now a brilliant chance to develop our economy in an import replacement manner.

    • Draco T Bastard 10.1

      Now, growing stuff, even wool, because people have to eat and clothe themselves, on the other hand….

      Is also unsustainable because the majority of nations can feed and clothe themselves from local resources and without the expensive transportation.

      And then we have to take into account the damage that too many farms are already doing to our nation.

      Time to get away from the cheap and easy and start developing our nation.

      • Adrian 10.1.1

        Wrong Draco, it has only been in the last 100 years of human existence that most have had enough to eat and that is down to being able to move it from where food will grow to where it can't due to seasonal weather etc. Pepys family lived on porridge 3 times a day in wintery England. Others were lucky to get that.

        Even today the cost of heating , mostly using oil, to produce food in northern Europe is massive in more ways than one.

        • Draco T Bastard 10.1.1.1

          If they can't feed themselves from local resources then they're over populated.

          So, no, not wrong. The wrong is trying to maintain an unsustainable population through unsustainable farming.

  11. Shanreagh 11

    If we do restart tourism as we had before (hopefully not) then one of the aspects to look at and break up is the vertically integrated nature of some of the tourist businesses in NZ. Businesses where 90% or more of the profits are chanelled overseas or where no tax is paid in NZ. Some of these businesses obtain visas for their businesses because they say they do not have qualified NZers. Surely with the NZers coming back there will be some qualified in these languages. Probably there were before and NZers may have been locked out because of poor wages.

    On a scale of what to do next I would prefer

    1) summit with no go areas ie

    no working visas for tourists (for the meantime)

    no freedom campers

    no vertical integration

    no un taxed profits going out of NZ

    all waged positions being offered to NZers as they will be living wages

    how can we make NZ attractive to NZers – value for money

    So the summit would work out what will work in a sustainable manner without reliance on high paying overseas tourists, or lowly paid overseas tourist workers so that NZers are encouraged to holiday here until it is safe to travel again.

    2) greater emphasis on agriculture, aquaculture and other clean, non extractive sustainable industries etc. Bringing these on line in the meantime while we have a big sort out of what our future tourism industry will look like.

    3) allowing international students back in with the student or education provider being responsible for the costs of quarantine

  12. AB 12

    "Poets, epic novelists, and grand film-makers, your moment in our national revival awaits."

    Minor point: poets and novelists write from the inside out, not vice versa. If they consciously tried to do anything to spark a 'national revival', the result would be ephemeral trash. I know you know this and are simply having a bit of fun – but just saying.

  13. Hunter Thompson II 13

    ” … we have a combination of attractions that we ought to be proud of and to invite the world to see. ”

    Correction: We need to preserve our attractions from the rampaging hordes of overseas tourists who are just passing through and think they can trash the environment with impunity.

    The tourist industry players can talk all they like about sustainability, but it will always be a numbers game for them – bring 'em in, stack 'em up the walls, there's always room for more. And if the tourists make a mess (as they did at the Mermaid Pools in Northland) then the ratepayers can carry the cleanup costs.

    Then we have the "spreading" fallacy – should the queues get too long at one place, send them to another. Brilliant strategy! I'm sure that a young backpacker intent on bungee jumping at Queenstown will be content with reading a book on a park bench in Eketahuna.

  14. Sabine 14

    unless the great unwashed masses aka the proletariat has disposable income you can dream of tourism come back as much as you want too it won't.

    Travelling is expensive.

    Staying somewhere for a few weeks while maintaining a home base is costly.

    But then, maybe the tourism that is discussed is the one where only the very rich get to travel to their hearts contend in their own planes, landing on their own heli pads, staying in their own ranches err dairy farms, bringing in the food they eat, the booze they drink and the wretched souls – the precariat – tha gets to clean and cook for them.

    But that tourism is only costing you your land, one ranch errr dairy farm a time, to no benefit to the country and the people living in there. If you want to know such a place, i suggest you look at Monaco. Owned by people who don't pay taxes, serviced by the original population that now lives in Italy or France and only goes to Monaco to work.

  15. Foreign waka 15

    Looking at the environmental destruction and damage particular air travel does with all that tourism hype, its better to have less than more.

    Some see only the dollars but in the long run it will pan out like Tibet and the Himalayan mass climbers. Money is all and the devastation is left behind, moving on to another pristine area to wreck that too. I see the behaviour akin to locusts, equally devastating.

    I hope the selfies were worth it and that kind of landscape this will be your and your kids back yard one day. Until a person is confronted and "inconvenienced" in their own world nothing will change.

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