Coronavirus: Kelvin Davis defends Government's tourism funding response

The tourism minister has defended the financial support the Government has given the tourism industry, saying it's "unsustainable" to support every single business.

Speaking to Magic Talk's Road to the Election on Sunday, Kelvin Davis said the Government has "done the best we can" to support as many strategic tourism assets as possible. These assets are those that "form the core of our essential tourism offerings to ensure their survival through the disruption caused by COVID-19", the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's (MBIE) website said.

The Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme (STAPP) supports eligible businesses and offers funding via grants and loans. There were 305 applicants for STAPP support. While 160 applications were ineligible for help, 130 businesses are receiving support through the program, MBIE said.

"We've always been upfront as a Government to say that we can't support every business and every job. People said that we were mainly going to focus mainly on the big end of town, and now we're getting criticised saying that we're supporting too many small businesses," Davis said.

"We think that we've got it right. We had criteria, we had a process and the process had three layers of scrutiny, and ultimately the Tourism Recovery Ministers - there are about five of us - we had to make the decisions as to where that money's going to go."

National's tourism spokesperson Todd McClay criticised Davis earlier in September for the "slow drip-feed of announcements" for the tourism industry, and instead said the Government should establish a "proper plan to save jobs" across the sector.

"The Government has delivered a patchwork response for an industry where 400,000 jobs were employed directly and indirectly by tourism," McClay said.

"There are thousands and thousands of operators across every region of New Zealand who will be asking 'is that it' after the Government spends hundreds of millions of dollars on fewer than 200 companies.

"Whether it be the lack of process in announcing major funding grants to big businesses while leaving small operators in Queenstown and Waitomo with no support, or the bizarre attack on travel agents for not applying for a fund that they were ineligible to apply for, Kelvin Davis is yet to deliver a comprehensive plan to support tourism."

Since there is no international tourism due to the pandemic, Davis said New Zealand is relying on domestic tourism.

"We've looked to support the supply of tourism - in other words, helping businesses - but we've also helped to drive demand. We've put in place a $50 million regional events fund which is there to encourage New Zealanders to get out there and explore other regions. We know that when they do that, they tend to stay longer and spend more money."

He added just over $20 million had been given to regional tourism organisations so they can market to their regions, and $280 million was put into strategic tourism assets. He also said the non-targeted small business cash-flow scheme and wage subsidy scheme has helped small tourism businesses too.

"There are tens of thousands of businesses that rely on tourism and to try and support every single tourism business is, quite frankly, unsustainable," Davis said.

"I stand by this Government's response, our broad-based response as well as our targeted response for the tourism sector."