After hearing that outbound travel agents and operators were being accused of ‘luring money overseas’ by New Zealand’s Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis, Queenstown based travel agent Victoria Keating felt compelled to tell the story from another angle.
While this could also apply to Australia (or any country for that matter), I’m concerned that the current narrative of how New Zealand’s outbound travel industry is desperately striving to recover NZ$2 billion of revenue lost is underselling how much value we add to the local economy here in a non-COVID environment.
This is not to detract from the fact that us agents are spending countless hours working for zero or negative pay while we tirelessly persist in ensuring our clients do not lose a single cent of their own hard-earned money.
So when NZ Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis proposed in Parliament last week that outbound travel agents and operators ‘lure’ money overseas, I was not sure that Minister Davis actually understood how much our outbound industry also contributes to our economy here in New Zealand.
Tourism has always been a two-way street. To receive inbound tourism, there has to be outbound tourism as well.
Airlines don’t wish to fly one half of a return journey with empty seats. While one might argue that planes are full in both directions with visitors having to return home at the end of their trip, it should be noted that despite having a flightless bird as our national mascot, Kiwis are also keen to fly out of NZ for all manner of reasons.
Figures released by MBIE show that in the year ending November 2019 NZ had a total of 3,890,000 inbound visitors from overseas entering through our ports, but we also had 3,081,000 Kiwis heading overseas.
Remarkably, that’s only 20% fewer outbound travellers than inbound travellers.
So what does this mean and why is it relevant to how us outbound travel agents help fund the local economy when so many Kiwis are spending their money offshore as the Minister suggests?
Well, for a start, that’s 3,081,000 Kiwis using our airports and ports, helping to pay airport and port taxes, staff including aircraft and shipping maintenance engineers, cleaners, customs and security staff, check-in, lounge and service staff, currency exchange, duty-free, retail and hospitality staff – all of whom spend their incomes in the local economy.
Let’s add to that the product that retail and hospitality staff within those ports are selling. NZ made and grown produce in the food outlets at our airports, in the lounges and on the planes that fly us offshore, as well in the airport hotels that are utilised by Kiwis pre or post-travel.
By their own reckoning, Auckland Airport alone supports 15,000 staff and over 100 businesses in the wider airport precinct. That doesn’t take into account our other four international airports, cruise ports or the regional airports which allow Kiwis outside of the main centres to meet their international flights.
While many visitors arriving on our shores have undoubtedly seen a Tourism NZ advert in their own country, it’s fair to say that much of our tourism comes from Kiwis passionately waving the flag for Aotearoa on their global travels.
Each time we leave our shores, be it for tourism or business, (in most cases) we are our own best ambassadors for New Zealand.
Whether or not that’s the legendary All Blacks who travel overseas for tournaments taking many staff and fans with them, winemakers showcasing their products overseas at tradeshows, or the innovators who take their medical findings, inventions and all sorts of other clever things Kiwis are renowned for abroad. All of us act as ambassadors and are our own best tourism campaign.
In doing so we aren’t just ‘luring money’ overseas to offshore operators. The NZ outbound travel industry props up and supports among others; NZ’s export industry, film industry, sporting teams, manufacturers, and importantly to world governments – global relations.
We make those reservations even for our ministers so that their terrible, luring overseas travel can help strengthen our relationships with our closest allies.
Of course, we’re not denying the main reason Kiwis fly is absolutely for tourism and travel to explore the world. But how is that wicked?
How is it that those Kiwi ‘rites of passages’ don’t matter to this current government? Have none of them ever left our shores, to seek and explore the world? To better themselves with overseas study, or to conduct business even?
Are we to assume that the dream of pouring pints on that OE in your early adult years before settling down in New Zealand to build a career and a life for you and your family isn’t something that this government values?
Or that likewise, our wonderful week-long escapes to our Pacific Island neighbours aren’t a right but a burden on our economy?
If so, how is`luring’ our money away to visit and support the islands of the South Pacific malicious when the NZ government actively provides many of our neighbourly nations with aid funding equalling 60% of our total Official Development Assistance program?
Nor does the government recognise that these Pacific escapes prop up our own export industry as much of the produce that feeds us on that Pacific holidays comes from NZ, also directly contributing to our local economy.
There are absolutely other industries desperately hurting while our borders remain closed and this is in no way intended to pour water on their plight.
Perhaps the government should recognise (as other countries have) that if there are industries which literally cannot operate or function while borders remain closed and with nowhere to pivot to (hello travel agents); then they need to help us.
So that when the borders do reopen, we are there to help support New Zealand step back into the world.
One way or another the government will end up supporting thousands in the outbound travel industry anyway, either in the form of benefits or further wage subsidies once the current one ends in two weeks.
Surely it would be better to save these jobs and keep these skilled workers gainfully employed with an extension of the wage subsidy until the borders reopen than prop us up with benefits and watch the decimation of our industry?
The travel industry needs a lifeline, and this government has the opportunity to provide that.
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