The impact Covid-19 will have on the tourism sector is understandably under significant scrutiny.
Around 230,000 people have been directly employed in tourism, that’s just over 8 percent of the entire New Zealand workforce.
International tourists spent $17.2 billion last year and over five million arrivals were expected this year. International tourism contributed just over 20 percent to New Zealand’s total overseas earnings, and been the largest earner along with dairy for the last 20 years. Tourism generated a direct contribution to GDP of nearly 6 percent and indirect value from industries supporting tourism generated another $11.2 billion.
In the past 20 years Tairāwhiti has on average attracted only half of one percent of these international tourists vising New Zealand.
In contrast, spending by domestic tourists across New Zealand was nearly $24 billion last year, nearly 40 percent more than international visitors spent.
Compared to most other regions, MBIE figures suggest tourists in Tairāwhiti spend has a much higher proportion on supermarkets and fuel while other regions see more spend on restaurants and bars, accommodation and passenger transport.
Australia has said they probably will not allow foreign visitors for the rest of the year, and we can expect something similar here that could result in at least 100,000 tourism jobs lost and the subsequent flow on effect to supporting industries.
Five years ago New Zealanders were spending about $10 billion on overseas travel and New Zealand was earning just over this amount from inbound tourists. While a good proportion of New Zealanders’ overseas travel is for business, the majority is for holidays and that most of that spend is now likely to be spent domestically. Tairāwhiti has always had a much higher proportion of domestic visitors than those from overseas and once we’re back to Level 2 we can expect a surge in domestic tourists compared to any previous years.
Local tourism infrastructure has always been very limited in our region and that is part of the attraction for visitors who want to go somewhere off the beaten track, away from the more polished and pricey tourist attractions of places like Rotorua, Queenstown and Auckland.
Accommodation options north of Gisborne are few and far between but it should not be difficult to quickly increase the number and range of accommodation to suit low, medium and high end budgets. Quickly developing an increased hospitality workforce may be a much bigger challenge.
The big opportunity I believe exists in quite a different kind of visitor experience to what we think tourists usually look for.
If set up right, Tairāwhiti has the opportunity to create a whole new class of domestic visitor experience, one that is based on deeper, lasting relationships rather than just catering to fly by nighters. By offering experiences that provide an authentic, long-term relationship between hosts and visitors we can encourage longer stays and more repeat visitors. We can also harness some of the skills and networks these visitors bring with them.
One community in the region has been doing something similar for more than ten years, every Labour Weekend between 30 and 100 visitors come into the village and reconnect with locals, help with a community project and enjoy authentic East Coast hospitality.
Another East Coast community has facilitated exchanges between young people in Wellington and the Coast for many years. The idea is to bridge the cultural and experience gaps between urban and rural New Zealand.
These kinds of deeper visitor experiences are mutually beneficial, offer more than just foreign exchange earnings for our communities and provide a unique point of difference that other regions will struggle to match.