There’s a close relationship between inbound tourism and Kiwis flying overseas. Photo / 123RF
A year ago, I wrote a plea to the Government to trust the private sector with the reopening plans.
A year on, the borders have opened, and tourism is back, so how have we
fared and what’s the next opportunity?
While scaling down was, without doubt, a difficult task, scaling up after the pandemic has inarguably been harder.
Frankly, it is more complicated to travel now than it was. Let’s face it, who hasn’t experienced first-hand, or heard the tales from friends at a barbecue or colleagues at work, about their trouble finding a seat on a plane, the cost of airfares, delays at the airport and tourism and hospitality businesses struggling to find the staff they need to deliver the service they are passionate about?
Unsurprisingly, in the face of this complexity, we have seen an increased use of travel agents as a growing number of customers value their expertise.
We are proud to have helped almost 500 000 customers to travel since borders opened in April, which is 75 per cent of pre-Covid bookings, with under half of the people in our business.
That’s no mean feat, and a scenario that is common within travel, tourism and hospitality businesses across Aotearoa.
If only resilience, passion, commitment and care for each other and our customers were the only requirements for success.
As we head into election year, many in these industries are pondering what the future of travel and tourism will be in New Zealand under either the incumbents or a change of government.
Tourism has lost its mantle as New Zealand’s biggest export earner, but having survived and tasted the early green shoots of recovery the travel and tourism industries are again ready to do their bit for New Zealand, especially as dark clouds gather on the economic horizon.
What appears to be misunderstood in a number of places is the symbiotic relationship of the inbound and outbound travel and tourism sectors.
They are two sides of the same coin and cannot thrive without each other.
Kiwi families and businesses are desperate to reconnect with the world, a fact that will give airlines greater confidence to increase capacity to New Zealand.
No airline can sustainably fly unbalanced routes full of inbound tourists alone, but balance between inbound and outbound flows, and the resulting increased capacity, will provide not only further opportunity for even greater numbers of tourists, but also cheaper airfares for Kiwi travellers and businesses, not to mention more freight options for Kiwi exporters.
Corporate travel is a necessity, facilitating business being done with the benefits flowing back home to New Zealand, which can only be a good thing for our local economy.
In both of our corporate travel businesses, Corporate Traveller and FCM, customers are eager to get back in front of international suppliers, partners, and stakeholders for business growth.
Passenger numbers across our Corporate Traveller business grew quickly to 150 per cent of 2021 levels, and current bookings are now comparable to pre-covid numbers with a strong percentage coming from small and medium-sized Kiwi businesses.
Our country needs strong businesses in New Zealand that are selling their wares to the world. Outbound travel is needed to fuel NZ Inc’s recovery and success.
Across our leisure travel business, our iconic red doors were thrown open in April and are still graced by queues.
Flight Centre and the broader agency sector are grateful to be trading again after a very difficult time, but even more importantly, have seen first-hand the importance of connection as we helped the initial wave of travellers needing to visit family and friends they had been separated from for so long.
Is there a more important trip? With border restrictions, vaccination requirements, ghost flights, lost baggage, limited airline support and more, having a third-party to manage this was integral.
This first wave has been followed by Kiwis booking their much-awaited, much-needed, holidays, and we have seen a resurgence in travel to the Pacific Islands, UK, Australia, and the US.
Outbound travel is vital to connect New Zealand to the world, Kiwis with their families and provide the break our collective wellbeing requires.
So yes, as the campaigning begins, economic management, cost-of-living, water, crime and health will all be important battlegrounds, but let’s not forget the importance of the travel and tourism sector and all the Kiwi businesses and families who are dependent on it.
We ask both parties to restore the travel and tourism portfolio to its previously prestigious status, engage with the private sector, seek to understand the co-dependent nature of outbound and inbound travel, and value the benefits we can bring to New Zealand.
Ask us about the solutions we need including appropriate immigration settings and the pros and cons of a “high value tourist” strategy. I won’t elaborate on these issues today, they are well documented, but it is safe to say that we know our industries intimately, know what needs to be done to repair our ecosystem, and share objectives around New Zealand’s success.As we have seen in recent days China will inevitably open, air capacity will return and then, globally, supply will outstrip demand.
We have a short timeframe, months rather than years, to be ready. Unquestionably we want New Zealand to be poised to grab the opportunity, allowing travel, tourism and hospitality to take advantage of the conditions with New Zealand positioned front of mind for trade and tourism.
The question is, however, which political party understands the opportunity, has the vision, and the ability to deliver on it? Is it the party whose previous tourism minister infamously accused the travel agency sector of “luring New Zealanders overseas”, or the party with a former travel boss at the helm?
Our message to both parties is clear – talk to us, as travel experts, and together we can deliver a strong policy that will benefit all Kiwis.
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