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Source: New Zealand Government

TIHEI MAURI ORA

Tuia te whakapono

Tuia te tumanako

Tuia te aroha

Tuia te hunga ora

Ki te hunga ora

Tihei Mauri ora

Ka nui te mihi ki a koutou

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

Thank you, Hilary and thank you, Chris, and everyone at TIA for this opportunity to speak at TRENZ Hui 2021.

It’s great to see TRENZ back after COVID-19 forced the cancellation of last year’s event. 

I hope you have all enjoyed the workshops and speakers so far, and have had a chance to catch up with your industry colleagues after a tough year away.

The TRENZ Hui 2021 themes: Revive – Reconnect – Revitalise align with a lot of the aims the Government has for the tourism sector.

But there are another couple of ‘r’s that I will soon speak to you about today – Recovery and Re-set.

When the Prime Minister talks about the ‘team of five million’, I am well aware that some players have done it significantly harder than others.

And none more so than large segments of the tourism and hospitality sector, and South Island communities in particular.

Thank you for your contribution to keeping New Zealand safe.

Change is happening

The tourism sector has been a significant part of our economy, and provides many benefits across New Zealand communities.

However, prior to COVID-19, most of us knew that tourism had been operating unsustainably for a number of years.

By this I mean it had become unsustainable because it was losing its social licence to operate with New Zealanders because of its effect on: crowding, noise, waste, climate change, infrastructure usage, and the natural environment.

In a pre-COVID survey of Kiwis, on average across the country forty per cent said that there were too many overseas tourisms – this figure was seventy per cent in Queenstown!

As we recover from COVID-19, and before the return of large volumes of international tourists, we have a very rare opportunity to reimagine tourism under a far more sustainable and regenerative model.

 We can rebuild and remodel our global value proposition while strengthening the social licence to operate across our diverse communities, and keep working to enhance the current tourism experience for those who travel half-way across the world to visit our beautiful and unique country.

This is an opportunity we must seize with both hands.

The changes we make to the tourism sector today will act as a catalyst to reach our goal of a sustainable and resilient visitor economy that brings benefits for all New Zealanders and all our communities.

Tourism linkages, cross-government

Tourism is interwoven through my portfolios of economic and regional development, small business, and they support my goals for tourism.

So many tourism businesses are small to medium enterprises, in the regions, run by people who work incredibly hard every day to ensure they deliver on our global brand promises.

I have immense respect for those who really do have the passion to ‘make it happen’.

A strong economy, both nationally and regionally supports the success of tourism in New Zealand.

The decisions I make for tourism are economic and regional development decisions; they’re small business decisions; and vice versa.

As a Government, we are laying the foundations for the future and recovering and rebuilding the economy. Through determined and connected action our work drives New Zealand towards a future that is higher wage, higher productivity and lower carbon and zero waste.

We are determined to build New Zealand’s brand as a globally safe and secure place to live, invest, trade, visit and do business.

To unashamedly strive to be amongst the best in the world.

To do this we need broad economic development goals that help us to reshape the economy to be more productive, more sustainable, more equitable, and more resilient.

This includes

  • Transforming industries through the Industry Transformation Programmes that involve all stakeholders, including workers, government and iwi.
  • Using Government procurement rules to shape this transformation and ensure the Government leads by example.
  • For example: we’ve committed the public sector to being carbon neutral by 2025; Government procurement now looks to support wider social, economic, cultural and environmental outcomes that go beyond the immediate purchase of goods and services; and we’re delivering on our promise to pay all contractors in the public service at least the Living Wage.

Our goals also include: making it easier for firms to do business as they help New Zealand transform: we’re improving access to finance, and enabling faster uptake of technology through the NZ Digital Boost Programme.

And we’re bringing all of New Zealand with us by investing in our regions: we’ve invested $200 million in a new Regional Strategic Partnership Fund to support economic development plans developed by regions, for regions.

Tourism in focus

I spoke in Queenstown in March about my direction for the tourism portfolio. There I outlined my four priorities for the tourism sector

My first priority is to elevate ‘Brand New Zealand’ so that this country is seen by international travellers as one of the top three aspirational global travel destinations.

We all have a role to play in elevating our Brand, and it’s our responsibility to live up to it: to live the brand.

After all, we go to the world with ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ – if we can’t deliver on this across the whole visitor experience, we run the risk of serious brand erosion.

This priority applies to more than tourism. It applies to every interaction an international visitor has with a Kiwi

Brand New Zealand is the big structural things; but, equally, it’s the little things. Because it’s the little moments that make a trip special and it’s those moments that people remember and, when they go back to their home countries, those are the kinds of stories, the ‘people stories’ that they will fondly tell their friends about.

But I also want us to be better story tellers! With a few wonderful exceptions, we don’t tell the stories of our history as well as we could. And it’s a colourful history with plenty of great examples. So let’s not be afraid to tell them in a way that engages.

My second priority is to take this opportunity to re-set and rebuild tourism on a sustainable and regenerative model, and ensure that the industry does not return to ‘business as usual’.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment observed at the outset of his report ‘Not 100% – but four steps closer to sustainable tourism’ that business-as-usual growth had the potential to undermine the very thing that New Zealand’s tourism industry is based on – the quality of our natural environment.

If we don’t take serious steps to protect and enhance our natural environment, not only will we have failed our grandkids as kaitiaki today, but we run the risk of eroding our international reputation as leaders in environmental sustainability and regenerative tourism.

Too many kiwis tell us that it wasn’t working pre-COVID. It needs to change and the work currently being undertaken around freedom camping is just one example of how we must reinvent our tourism offering.

My third priority is to ensure that the costs and negative impact associated with tourism are mitigated or priced into the visitor experience, and not funded by New Zealand ratepayers and taxpayers.

Work is ongoing on this subject and will be announced in due course.

My fourth priority is for government to partner with industry: businesses, workers, and iwi.

This is essential to achieving transformation of the tourism sector. It is what the Industry Transformation Plan is about and it involves everyone taking responsibility for decisions on the future of our tourism sector.

It’s about ensuring we have the right infrastructure to exceed the expectations of the most discerning international visitors.

It’s about taking collective responsibility for driving up the standards of service delivery.

It’s about creating meaningful career pathways for our people, about paying decent wages and providing world class conditions – for our visitors and our staff.

Delivering all four priorities won’t be easy, but then nothing worth doing ever is.

In Queenstown, I also spoke about my ambitious work programme.

I stated that my first priority for the programme was to support those communities most affected by the loss of international tourism through structural and targeted initiatives.

It is a different approach to the $400 million Tourism Recovery Package of early 2020.

That package was designed to get cash out the door quickly to affected businesses. 

This year we have a more targeted plan to rebuild the tourism sector for the future

A Support, Recovery and Re-set Plan

Today I am pleased to announce a $200 million Tourism Communities: Support, Recovery and Re-set Plan.

The Tourism Communities Plan will invest in new programmes like

  • Psycho-social support and wellbeing services,
  • small business support,
  • tourism infrastructure,
  • the conservation estate,
  • Māori development, and
  • economic and regional development.

There are 12 key points in the Plan.

Half are focused on the most vulnerable South Island regions: Fiordland, South Westland, Queenstown Lakes, Mackenzie District and Kaikōura.

The remaining six are nationwide initiatives.

I signalled in my Queenstown speech in March that long-term structural change and short-term targeted support must prioritise the regions and communities who need most help

Support for the five South Island communities will address:

  1. psychological and social wellbeing support and training,
  2. grants for businesses to get expert advice on planning and decision-making in response to COVID-19 ($10 million total, $5,000 per business)
  3. grants to help businesses implement these plans and advice ($10 million, $5,000 per business)

I should note that early on in the pandemic, we funded advice to tourism businesses to help them navigate through the deep uncertainty of that time. This support was widely picked up.

  1. A $49 million kick-start fund so businesses that have gone into hibernation or suspended operations can receive grants to help reopen and resume trading once international visitors return
  2. A re-set of the Queenstown-Wanaka regional economy with a $20 million fund to attract private sector investment to diversify and develop alternative industries.

The area is over-reliant on international tourism, and needs support to improve its resilience to global economic shocks.

While COVID is the worst pandemic this decade, it is actually the third in modern history, after SARS and MERS. It won’t be the last. We all need to be better prepared.

Government support will be through an underwriting role and potential projects include a digital innovation hub and a film studio.

  1. Tourism at the iconic UNESCO World Heritage site Milford Sound-Piopiotahi cannot return to its pre-COVID state.

Significant pressure from 870,000 annual visitors threatened cultural and environmental values and infrastructure in Fiordland National Park, and impacted on the visitor experience.

Transformation is needed to protect Milford Sound-Piopiotahi and create a more sustainable and high quality visitor experience.

$15 million will enable the Milford Opportunities Project to move to its next phase. This requires detailed planning, community consultation, consenting, and preparation for new infrastructure.

This Tourism Communities Plan also offers wide support for the industry as a whole.

It is an opportunity for government, councils, iwi, businesses and tourism communities to work together and re-set the industry on a more sustainable model for the future.

There are six additional components of the plan to address longer-term challenges nationwide:

  1. Regional Tourism Organisations will receive a new round of annual grant funding of $26 million to co-ordinate, promote and market tourism activities in their regions.

The surge in domestic tourism in the past year has been a boost for some traditionally out-of-the-way regions, and the new investment will build on this.

Let me take RTOs as a case study for a moment, because they play such a key role in leading and coordinating tourism activities alongside the industry, stakeholders, Māori and communities.

The recovery of the sector will, in part, depend on capable and well-resourced RTOs to lead and coordinate activities alongside the industry, workers, Māori and communities.

  1. Inbound Tour Operators (ITOs) provide a vital link to global markets and need to be ready to facilitate the return of international visitors when it is safe to do so.

$14 million in existing loans from the 2020 Tourism Recovery Package will be converted to grants.

This means 26 ITOs will receive up to $500,000 each.

  1. Māori tourism businesses have experienced a severe downturn with the absence of international visitors and will be targeted with new funding.

It will be managed by New Zealand Māori Tourism who will also expand their business support services. The investment will help the Māori tourism industry position for the future, and look at the feasibility of delivering regional anchor projects.

The Minister for Māori Development will announce further details next month.

We want visitors to have a genuine connection with the Māori world, Te Ao Māori, and ensure that Māori tourism is supported to deliver this unique offering

  1. The Department of Conservation will extend the fee waiver for around 1,000 operators on conservation land who pay a tourism concession fee.

The $10 million investment allows fees to be waived for a further six months, ensuring important work on conservation and recreational facilities continues despite the loss of revenue.

It also enables tourism jobs and businesses to remain active in the Conservation estate.

  1. Local councils will be able to apply to another round of the Tourism Infrastructure Fund, with $16.5 million of new investment.
  2. A new Tourism Industry Transformation Plan will see the government work in partnership with tourism businesses and the tourism workforce, councils, iwi, researchers and independent advisers.

The ITP will be developed with $10 million in new funding.

It will build on recent work by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Tourism Futures Taskforce and Climate Change Commission, among others, to lift industry standards and transform to a more sustainable model.

Hope from adversity, but tough times ahead

The border re-opening with Australia is a huge boon for families, for regions, and for the economy as a whole.

And as much as it’s a potential economic boost; it’s equally a result of the hard work done by you.

The border re-opening has already made a significant difference to so many people – Air New Zealand’s record busy days since COVID-19 can attest this that – but, of course, a border re-opening to Australia isn’t a remedy for all of the pain of the past twelve-plus months.

We knew that the initial travellers would be friends and family, or business travellers; not holidaymakers, but they tell me that holidaymakers are coming – along with the snow!

While I am on the topic of borders, and bubbles, I want to briefly mention vaccines. 

It is essential that our top priority is that which the Prime Minister outlined at the start of this term: sticking to our plan of keeping New Zealanders safe from COVID-19.

That means a continuing focus on keeping our borders secure, while opening up carefully as we have done with the Trans-Tasman Bubble and the Cook Islands. 

It also means rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine to meet our target that every New Zealander who chooses to be vaccinated will be by the end of the year.

In addition to its importance in keeping New Zealanders safe, the vaccine is an important part of our economic strategy.

It should also be an important part of the business strategy for everyone in tourism, hospitality, and the events sector.

As our vaccination rates ramp up, we will be less likely to have to resort to further Alert Level changes.

It will also provide additional opportunities to safely open up travel to and from a wider range of countries.

I have one request to those of you who employ staff – please do everything you can to support your staff to make the right decisions about vaccination.

That might mean helping them determine fact from fiction, and talking them through vaccine hesitancy.

For workers on the frontline of international tourism, it is essential that they keep themselves safe, their fellow workers safe, your customers safe, and our country safe.

Mental health and wellbeing

I’ve spoken to many of you about just how hard COVID-19 has been on your business, your employees, your family, the toll it’s taken on you personally.

I know the kinds of pressures that you are under from the letters I’ve received.

I also know just how important it is to seek help when you’re under these kinds of pressures.

Many people within these communities may not even know that they should be speaking to a professional, but it’s so important to. I can’t stress this enough.

Summary

We are implementing the $200 million Tourism Communities: Support, Recovery and Re-set Plan rapidly in order to provide relief where it is most needed.

It represents a significant investment in the tourism system, on top of the record investments we have already made.

It will help to protect our communities, enable businesses to make challenging decisions, and rebuild tourism in a way that strengthens New Zealand for generations to come.

It is a response to the needs of the now, but it also signals the future and directly aligns with my priorities for tourism.

I would like to get away with adding in one final ‘r’ to the TRENZ Hui 2021 themes before I go

When the sector does come back that it includes sustainable Regeneration at the heart of all its plans and thinking, because that’s absolutely critical now.

We can’t waste this opportunity to make real change.

We won’t waste this opportunity to make real change.

Mauri ora ki a tātou.

E koa ana te ngākau kua tae mai au i tēnei rā.

I runga i te reo karanga.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

MIL OSI