Tourism industry pleads for South Pacific bubble, says domestic tourists can't save it

A tourism industry spokesperson is pleading for the industry to be saved with a South Pacific 'bubble' instead of falling back solely on the domestic market.

She likened the industry currently to a house being on fire and said relying on local tourists to fix it is like calling an architect rather than firefighters.

Haka Tourism Group general manager Eve Lawrence made the impassioned plea at the COVID-19 Epidemic Response Committee on Tuesday.

"I don't believe for a moment that domestic tourism can even come close to filling the massive void that having no international visitors is going to create for New Zealand," said Lawrence.

"Efforts to reimagine tourism in the middle of a crisis is like calling in an architect instead of the fire service while your house is still burning down. We first need to put our efforts toward saving our house and then think about reimagining building our industry.

"With large tourism operators, over 80 percent of their business comes from international visitors. Even with 20 percent revenue, the likelihood keeping these businesses afloat simply isn't there. It's just not viable for these businesses to remain open."

One of the issues is that Kiwi tourists perceive local tourism to be very expensive, Lawrence said, despite that not always being the case.

She said South Pacific travel without quarantine periods needs to be allowed "as a matter of urgency" for the industry to "even have a chance to survival".

Lawrence said the industry's survival chances could also be improved if the Government extends the wage subsidy beyond 12 weeks. She said it should extended to 26 weeks or more - and that the revenue threshold needs to be raised. 

Lawrence said the Haka Tourism Group had a healthy balance sheet that could "easily" make it through a recession, but not with zero revenue.

"No business models for zero revenue. The narrative that bigger businesses should rely on their balance sheets was really disheartening to hear from the finance minister."

In addition to an extension on wage subsidy support, Lawrence is calling for commercial rent relief to help accommodation providers in particular.

Lawrence acknowledged the great job the Government has done in managing the health crisis of the pandemic and saving thousands of lives. However, "now is the time to start focussing on the economic fallout and saving livelihoods", she said.

Other ideas she put forward included lowering or eliminating GST on tourist items as well as other tax relief and using taxpayer funds to run marketing campaigns targeting Australasian travellers.