Coronavirus: Tourism leaders critical of $400m Budget package, no clear plan

Tourism got a $400 million funding boost in Budget 2020, but industry leaders say it is not enough to keep them afloat and does not provide a clear plan.

The Tourism Recovery package includes funding for a domestic tourism campaign, a programme to advise businesses on their futures, and funding to identify and protect strategic tourism attractions.

The wage subsidy has been extended for eight more weeks, and a task force is being established to come up with ideas for future tourism in New Zealand.

But tourism industry leaders are asking if the initiatives are enough to make up for the country's border being closed indefinitely.

Tourist hotspot Queenstown has been reeling from thousands of job losses, with more than 5500 people requesting welfare in the area since late March.

"I'm devastated, absolutely devastated, underwhelmed," Pan Pacific Travel managing director Matt Brady told Checkpoint.

"We were very clear on what we needed. The borders have been closed to international visitors for potentially a very, very long time… We needed certainty, and we were … saying if you extend the wage subsidy to cover the core staff for the duration of the closure, we would have probably applauded that. We've been given an eight-week extension."

Budget Day has come too late for many tourism and accommodation providers, who without certainty about what help was coming have made staff redundant, he said.

He would like to have seen the wage subsidy covering tourism staff for the length of New Zealand's border closure.

"We're being told we've got this wonderful $400 million package. I note with interest recently racing, who somehow managed to be given a bit of a lifeline before the announcement of the Budget, have been given $72 million.

"I think at best they're claiming $1.6 billion [in contribution to the economy].

"Tourism - $17 billion [contribution to the economy] - gets $400 million.

"And most of that will be spent on a task force telling the sector how they actually pivot themselves to get into domestic or trans-Tasman. That's like telling the kiwifruit industry to start pivoting into growing broccoli. There's no comparison."

For most of the inbound travel industry, the domestic tourism campaign will not mean anything, Brady said.

"We have no confidence in the current Minister of Tourism… We've got a Prime Minister who is covered by the global press, we're going into recovery mode. Here's a brilliant opportunity for our PM to step up, take over the role and lead from the front, because right now the industry is feeling a complete and utter lack of support."

But Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis told Checkpoint the government moved quickly to provide economic relief, which the tourism sector has been eligible for.

"We listened to what they had to say. Their number one concern was the extension of the wage subsidy scheme. We've listened to that, we've extended the wage subsidy scheme for eight more weeks.

"We have to be honest that we can't tie workers to jobs that will not be there in the future… We won't have the same tourism industry that we had previously, but we will have the bones of it, and we will come out stronger on the other side."

He said it is "way too soon" to be making predictions about when international borders will reopen.

The $400m fund included a plan to protect "strategic tourism assets". Davis said they are businesses that have positive spinoff effects to a community or region.

"If we don't support those strategic tourism assets then what they'll have is an effect to other regions. Take something like Kaikōura whale watch. It brings tourists to Kaikōura and if it wasn't there, then it would have a huge impact, flow-on effect to the rest of the area and we'd have more job losses."

Active Adventures chief executive Wendy van Lieshout said the $400m tourism package was "a little bit lacking for those of us who already have pivoted and made a change in our businesses."

Her customers have been 100 percent international, so the business is very quickly moving to attract New Zealanders and Australians, if the trans-Tasman border opens.

Her business has been running for 23 years. "We have been profitable and we do have reserves, that's why we've been able to retain our staff to date.

"Our job is to bring people to New Zealand, to enjoy the entire country… We have brought hundreds of millions of export dollars – income, taxpayer money – into New Zealand over the last 23 years.

"If people like us don't exist, who is going to bring those people?"