Coronavirus: Experts call for tourism rethink as industry struggles with economic fallout

Coronavirus' effect on the tourism industry is "absolutely devastating", but experts say the country needs to use the outbreak as an opportunity to build a more resilient economy for the future.

With the sector already struggling with a drop in numbers due to the COVID-19 outbreak, things are expected to get even worse after the Government's announcement over the weekend that everyone arriving in the country - with the exception of people coming from the Pacific Islands - has to self-isolate for 14 days. Cruise ships have also been banned from entering the country until June 30.

Kirstin Dunne, chief executive of Tourism Bay of Plenty, said the outbreak has been "absolutely devastating" for the industry.

"There's so much fear and uncertainty and ambiguity so people are really lost at the moment and they're needing strong leadership and good decision making," Dunne told The Am Show on Tuesday. 

Earlier this week, Air New Zealand said up to 30 percent of its workforce - around 3750 jobs - may be cut as the company struggles to cope with economic fallout caused by COVID-19.

The airline said it would be suspending a number of flights, cutting international capacity by 80 percent.

According to the New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association it was understood the job cuts would "not be a short-term measure".

The Government is set to release a business continuity package later on Tuesday aimed at providing a financial lifeline for some of those companies and workers suffering - something Dunne said was "absolutely crucial".

Tourism industry expert Anna Pollack says much of the fear and uncertainty felt at the moment is caused by how the industry is structured here.

It's especially tough for small businesses, she says.

"The margins in tourism have dropped significantly over this period of growth, so we have more people but we're not necessarily generating more net benefit as a result of them coming," Pollack told The Am Show. "That leads to low resilience so in situations like this you have no alternative but to lay people off."

Although weathering the storm won't be easy, Pollack says it's a time for the industry to self-reflect.

"We have an opportunity to stop and think seriously about how we've structured tourism so we can build a more resilient economy in the future."

Both Dunne and Pollack agree that seeing the impact of coronavirus on the economy should make New Zealanders appreciate the sector's importance for the country.

"I think one of the opportunities right now is not only to appreciate tourism but also to appreciate what is in your own country," says Pollack. 

"A lot of tourism at the moment is taking people to the big hotspots and they go through very quickly. What we have an opportunity to do here is what the Bay of Plenty are planning on doing is engaging more people in their community and understanding what tourism can be and participating in it."

Dunne says although people's safety comes first - "if you're unwell you must stay home" - she is urging Kiwis to get outdoors and explore if they are feeling healthy.

"If you are well then get out and about.

"New Zealand is extraordinary and what we need most right now for our wellness is actually nature. We're blessed with New Zealand and its surroundings," she says

"You can be at the beach or you can be in the forests - and that's where you need to be right now, connecting with nature."

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