Rocky times ahead for tourism despite more flights, school holiday spike, industry head says

Source: 1News

Despite some promising signs for tourism, including a spike over the school holiday period and increased domestic travel, the industry association's chief executive says the sector will continue to struggle in the coming months. 

Chris Roberts

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts said the sector was facing a long slog to summer as the buzz of the July school holiday faded.

He said the school holiday saw Kiwis heading out after being in lockdown, with some domestic trips also acting as a replacement for overseas ones.

“It was a very welcome boost to tourism operators but now, of course, it’s gone very quiet again.”

Mr Roberts said while Kiwis were still heading out for weekend breaks, and that ski fields were “doing okay”, tourist operators were facing a quiet winter without international visitors. 

“Businesses will be looking to hang onto staff for the summer when we start travelling as New Zealanders,” he said.

“That’s a long way away to hang on with your business with staff numbers that they may not be able to justify.

“Unfortunately, we’re going to see quite a number of job losses and, hopefully, some job opportunities coming along in the summer.”

Government funding for the industry to weather the quiet period could only go so far, Mr Roberts said.

While $400 million was announced in Budget 2020 for tourism, $311 million of which was allocated last week largely through grants and loans for 126 businesses, he said it could only help some businesses. 

“But, we do have at least 20,000 businesses in the tourism industry, so the rest are still facing a really significant struggle to adapt to running with a domestic-only scenario without knowing how long they'll have to wait for borders to open again,” he said.

“Tourism is very resilient, but nothing prepares you for a shock as big as this … we’re going to lose tourism businesses.”

Meanwhile, Air New Zealand boosted its domestic schedule for August to 70 per cent pre-pandemic levels, up from the 55 per cent it previously predicted for the month, after better-than-expected demand. 

Jetstar also upped its domestic schedule for August to 90 per cent pre-pandemic levels after increased customer demand. 

Mr Roberts said the trends signalled to the tourism industry that travel for business and leisure was coming back after the pandemic. 

“That’s still a 30 per cent cap on what would normally be available, and we would normally see that as a very significant cut,” he said.

“Just that the impact of the pandemic has been so big that we’re grateful to be at least 70 per cent of what would be a normal level.”

In May, Mr Roberts told TVNZ1’s Breakfast the sector would take three to five years to recover.

He told 1 NEWS this week he wasn’t expecting this to change while Covid-19 continued to get worse overseas and international travel restrictions continued as a result, locking about four million potential international visitors out. 

Mr Roberts urged Kiwis to continue exploring their country.

“There’s an opportunity to have an overseas holiday at home.” 

Statistics New Zealand figures for the year to March 2019 showed $17.2 billion of tourism expenditure came from international visitors, while domestic travellers contributed $23.7 billion.