Tourism leaders: Let’s make the most of Ardern’s star power

Tourism leaders hope the country will be able to leverage the star power of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to help rebuild the battered industry although the existing minister says he wants to keep the job.

Tourism Export Council chief executive Lynda Keene said she strongly backed Ardern for the portfolio.

”If she was to become Minister of Tourism it would send a strong message to the world that she is leading the economic recovery as well as our strong health recovery. Her appointment would enhance the already strong demand and interest in NZ as a desired visitor destination.”

Haka Tours general manager Eve Lawrence said Ardern would be a perfect minister to represent the country.

‘She has a great public image and is in the best position to promote our industry and country.”

Tourism Holdings chief executive and member of a government taskforce, Grant Webster, said ”it would be absolutely fantastic ” to have Ardern as tourism minister but she could use her brand to promote the country without having the portfolio.

”Brand New Zealand, brand prime minister and importantly brand Jacinda is really important — they connect. The Prime Minister being focused on tourism regardless of whether it’s her portfolio or not would be critical.”

Sir John Key combined the prime ministerial role with that of tourism minister which helped lift the country’s profile.

Speaking after a Tourism New Zealand roadshow event Webster said a deeper relationship between Ardern and the government agency and the industry would be fantastic.

”The industry would love it, embrace and know we’d benefit from it.”

Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis has copped flak for his handling of how more than $400m in emergency funding of struggling businesses was distributed. He said today he stood by his decisions and that he’d “love to” keep all his existing portfolios, and went on to defend his performance.

Besides tourism, Davis is Deputy Prime Minister, minister for Māori-Crown relations, Corrections and an Associate Minister of Education.

”We were open from the outset that we couldn’t save every job or every business. That would be an empty promise to say that we would save every job, you’d just be letting people down,” said Davis.

”There were always going to be people who didn’t like it, they weren’t going to receive direct funding. These are the decisions as a Minister that you just have to make knowing that you’re doing it in the best interest of the whole tourism industry.”

Different views on the minister

Webster said there would always be different views on any tourism minister.
”Everybody has their own sort of views. I’ve seen Kelvin work very hard behind the scenes for the industry and he’ll work with the Prime Minister to work out what is best for everyone.”

The industry had been divided on most ministers over the decades although Key had a particularly good relationship because of the power he had as prime minister, said Webster, who is co-chair of the Tourism Futures Taskforce, set up by Davis and due to produce a draft report in December.

Webster said it was critical to retain the portfolio make-up of the Tourism Recovery Ministers Group which is overseeing the Tourism Recovery Package. Members include ministers of Tourism, Finance, Māori development, Conservation, and the under secretary of Regional economic development.

“I think what is absolutely fundamental for the industry is that the tourism recovery group remains — which ministers who are in this and portfolios will be what they will be.”

Another speaker at the tourism roadshow event, Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development’s manager of destination, Steve Armitage, said Ardern had already done much to promote the country.

”I would argue she has done it almost by default with the global profile she’s built,” he said.

”Would I love to see her have it of course, (John) Key did a great job, Mike Moore was the first to think about combining the two things but we’ll have to wait and see.”

The roadshow, at Auckland’s Cordis Hotel, was told by Tourism NZ chief executive Stephen England-Hall that while domestic tourism had bounced back strongly over winter — with spending up 7 per cent but rates of spending by Kiwis were much lower than international visitors.

Around 3.9 million visitors from overseas arrived last year and international tourism spending was $17.2 billion.

He said the Government was still balancing the health risk from Covid-19 with the economic consequences of closing the border.

The big gathering at the Cordis, the day after 46,000 fans packed into Eden Park, showed the benefits of squashing the virus.

”The pressure on the Government comes down to their

prioritisation of economy, health and risk.”

England-Hall said he believed that when the new government was formed it would move quickly to consider when it was safe to open to some visitors.

Likely to be first were those coming to visit friends and family, followed by more risk-tolerant travellers who could be the wealthy or younger.

Armitage said he was encouraged by the decision to allow 250 students into the country which could be a ”beachhead” to many more and tourists who wanted to be here for the America’s Cup.

Davis: Minister always up for criticism

Kelvin Davis said there would be criticism, whoever was minister

when Covid hit.

”We’d done a lot to fix up all the problems we’d inherited.”

These included lack of controls over freedom camping anda lack of sustainable funding which led to the introduction of the International Visitor Levy.

”Which everyone is very grateful for now, even though there are no visitors coming in. We have co-operated and worked alongside local governments and communities to build tourism infrastructure that was lacking,” he said.

A new tourism strategy with emphasis on sustainability was more relevant now than it was pre-Covid.

”I remember early on there was no playbook for Covid and there was no playbook for tourism.”

He defended handling of the border.

‘People were saying, tell us when the transtasman bubble is going to open, and I couldn’t. We still can’t say that.”

Davis said there was a broad basis of support, through the wage subsidy, the small business cash flow loan scheme and various tax measures.

”That was the initial prop up. Then we got the $400 million for the Tourism Recovery Fund and we had to make that fund stretch as far as possible and get the best bang for our buck. ”

Tourist operators, especially those running smaller businesses, have attacked grants and loans for those run by big firms, owned by wealthy individuals or overseas firms.

”What some people didn’t like is that they weren’t designated a strategic tourism asset, and I understand this is people’s livelihoods, the livelihoods of their staff. We just had to make some tough calls and we did it. And I always knew they were going to come in for criticism but I stand by those decisions that we made.”

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