A New Zealand tourism entrepreneur says it’s “a disgrace” the Government’s much vaunted Tourism Futures Taskforce will not be presenting its final report until April next year, and much more urgent work is being overlooked.
"Tourism was a $40 billion industry, yet our borders would’ve been closed for 13 months by the time the Government even starts considering a report and recommendations on tourism. It’s unbelievable," says Veronika Vermeulen, owner of Aroha New Zealand Tours.
The Minister of Tourism set up the independent New Zealand Tourism Futures Taskforce in June. According to MBIE’s website: ‘The Taskforce will provide an interim report to ministers in December 2020, with a final report and recommendations due in April 2021’.
"It begs the questions: How long will the Government then mull over the report and just how protracted will its implementation be? Sure, the taskforce is busy having workshops and meetings, but tourism operators desperately need much more decisive and urgent action from the Government," she says.
Tourism Industry Aotearoa Board member Grant Webster is co-chair of the Tourism Futures Taskforce and TIA chief executive Chris Roberts is on the Advisory Group.
“The role of the Taskforce is quite clear in its title and in its published terms of reference,” says Chris.
“It is looking long-term at what the rebuilt tourism industry will look like in five, 10 even 30 years’ time, and what structural changes need to be made to achieve that vision.”
Veronika is among the growing list of tourism advocates demanding a review of the Government’s Strategic Assets Protection Programme. The industry has accused it of being an uneven playing field. Ministers dismissed official advice with documents showing the programme has been riddled with problems.
"The overwhelming majority of tourism businesses do not qualify as strategic assets, and with the wage subsidy scheme fast drying up, we’re on our own. By the time the taskforce delivers its big glossy report on securing our futures, we’ll all be broke!"
“The Taskforce is specifically excluded from looking at the short-term recovery of the industry and has no role with STAPP or any other immediate government support measures,” says Chris.
“Of course, the tourism industry needs ongoing support to recover from the pandemic crisis, but that is not the role of the Taskforce. TIA has published a Tourism Election Action Plan, which sets out sets out the priority actions we will be wanting from the incoming Government after the October 17 General Election.”
The businesswoman says the Government’s approach to supporting the tourism sector is completely back to front.
"There are many immediate issues to address, yet the Government seems keener to reimagine tourism’s long-term future. Some good brains are on the taskforce, but sadly they’ve been told to focus on the coming decades and take their time.
"New Zealand’s tourism operators haven’t got the luxury of time. We need specific action now, not some idealistic vision rolled out in another seven months," says Veronika.