South Island prioritised in multimillion-dollar Tourism Infrastructure Fund

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash.
Tourism Minister Stuart Nash. Photo credit: File

The South Island is being prioritised for a multimillion-dollar fund to build infrastructure for visitors - such as toilets and carparks - in regions hard-hit by lack of tourists. 

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash has confirmed the final of five rounds of the Tourism Infrastructure Fund - launched in 2017 under National - will prioritise Kaikōura, MacKenzie-Aoraki Mt Cook, Queenstown, Fiordland and South Westland districts.

The fund has helped councils build and maintain assets like public toilets and showers, carparks and footpaths, waste disposal and water treatment facilities, freedom camping sites, picnic shelters, jetties and boat ramps, bike stands and mountain bike hubs. 

"I have updated the criteria for projects to be prioritised by the fund," Nash said on Wednesday. "It will now better reflect the reality that jobs and businesses in some regions, particularly the South Island, are harder hit by the loss of international tourists than other regions."

The final size of the funding pool is still to be determined, Nash said, but it's expected to be in the vicinity of $13 million. The previous four rounds have already paid out a combined $58.4 million, with the most - almost $8 million - going to Waikato.  

Nash said despite the South Island being prioritised, other regions are still welcome to apply. But all applicants will be asked to demonstrate the need for support with visitor infrastructure. 

"All councils will still be eligible to apply if they lack adequate revenue sources to cater for visitors, for example if they have a small ratepayer base. Community groups with council backing can also apply," he said. 

"The projects will provide much-needed local employment as tourism towns work to diversify their economies. The new infrastructure will also ensure the quality of the visitor experience is improved for when tourists return in greater numbers."

Nash said the funding will prepare tourism hotspots for when the Government announces a trans-Tasman quarantine-free travel bubble with Australia and other international connections when it's safe to do so. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will announce a date for the trans-Tasman bubble on Tuesday. The Government is also working towards a May commencement date for a travel bubble with the Cook Islands. 

The Government has heavily promoted domestic tourism through the campaign 'Do Something New, New Zealand', to try and get Kiwis to visit tourist spots feeling the pressure of no international tourists. 

Although domestic tourism was up 24 percent to $1.17 billion in January this year at the summer peak, compared to January 2020, total visitor spend has fallen 11 percent overall, exposing the gap still felt by the absence of international tourists. 

Nash has said it is not likely that New Zealand will see any overseas tourists in 2021, with the borders more likely to open in 2022.

Queenstown has been particularly hard-hit, with Queenstown mayor Jim Boult telling The AM Show the lack of international tourists could spell the end of the town as a tourism destination.

In a speech to Otago Tourism Policy School in Queenstown earlier this month, Nash said the status quo "will not be the model of the direction of tourism" in New Zealand. 

He described it as "unsustainable" and lacking "resilience". 

"We have an opportunity now, while the borders are closed, to re-shape tourism so that when we re-open, and international visitors return in meaningful numbers, the sector, and our host communities are operating on more assured model," he said. 

The Government invested $400 million in tourism recovery to help it survive COVID-19. To date, it was the greatest single amount invested in tourism in New Zealand's history. 

Tourism businesses could also access the COVID-19 wage subsidy scheme. It's estimated tourism and hospitality businesses received $1.8 billion in wage subsidies.