National proposes $100m package to co-fund tourism projects amid COVID-19 crash

National is proposing a $100 million package of direct grants for tourism operators hit by COVID-19 where 70 percent of a project aimed at boosting the industry would be funded. 

National leader Todd Muller made the announcement on Friday in Queenstown, one of New Zealand's major tourist hotspots where visitor numbers have dried up thanks to closed borders and social distancing restrictions. 

He said the $100 million Tourism Accelerator fund would be allocated over a four-year period, and it would be open to tourism operators, businesses, iwi or groups of investors with ideas to stimulate demand in tourism. 

The fund would provide 70 percent of the funding for a project that meets the criteria of the programme set by an independent board. The Government would not take a stake in the equity or the intellectual property of the project. 

The board would be appointed by the Tourism Minister who would not have a say in which projects are approved. The minister would be allowed to issue a priority statement to "provide clarity to the board on what the Government's priorities are". 

Because the projects would have to be at least 30 percent private investment, Muller said it could result in at least $130 million worth of investment in the tourism sector.

The viable projects would have to "aim to increase demand for tourism in the region where the project is based" and would be assessed based on the likeliness of providing "commercial returns". 

"Our tourism sector has been hit hard by COVID-19. Once the border re-opens we need to be ready to invite visitors back," Muller said. "Tourism operators need confidence to keep their doors open and keep people in jobs."

Could the Government adopt it as a policy?

This is the second policy Muller has unveiled as leader since he rolled Simon Bridges. 

The first policy he proposed was giving businesses $10,000 every time they employ a new full-time worker to help them through the COVID-19 crisis, and Finance Minister Grant Robertson said he was "prepared to consider" it

But there were parts of the policy that concerned Robertson, for example, a business owner would be eligible for an upfront payment of $5000 if they could prove an intention to hire someone new - but they could fire them after 90 days.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she read the proposal and was prepared to consider adopting it as Government policy. But she also had a dig at it, suggesting it had been unveiled without enough detail.  

The Government unveiled a $400 million fund in Budget 2020 for the COVID-19-hit tourism industry, including a programme to protect important tourism assets, of which Discover Waitomo was announced on Thursday as the first recipient of.   

The wage subsidy scheme was also extended in Budget 2020 for businesses that could prove 50 percent or more revenue loss, paid for by the Government's whopping $50 billion COVID-19 recovery fund.