Every Kiwi should be issued a $200 domestic Travel Card to give a welcome boost to New Zealand's decimated tourism industry, Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA) has argued, as the sector continues to struggle with the impacts of the ongoing pandemic.
The proposal is set to be floated at the Tourism Summit Aotearoa on Tuesday. The future of the devastated industry, which is grappling to stay afloat amid the ongoing border closures, will be discussed at the conference by some of the sector's biggest players, including Minister of Tourism Stuart Nash.
Speaking to The AM Show on Tuesday morning prior to the summit, TIA chief executive Chris Roberts said the Travel Card initiative would encourage Kiwis to splash out on domestic travel, giving much-needed business to faltering tourism operators.
"We need to look at, after summer - because summer will be fine, Kiwis will get out on summer holiday - if the borders are still closed then, what do we do to stimulate demand going into autumn and then into winter?" he said.
"That might be some sort of Travel Card issued to all Kiwis - a little bit of spending money to go spend on [domestic] tourism."
He also said more targeted support needs to be provided by the Government to keep viable tourism businesses in play.
"We need some targeted support for businesses that are quite viable, but can't reach their customers at the moment because of those closed businesses. So that's loans or grants to businesses that we still need to keep around," he said.
Roberts stressed that domestic travel is imperative to the industry's survival. With negotiations underway to open a travel bubble between New Zealand and the Cook Islands - and a one-way, trans-Tasman air bridge currently in place for Kiwis desperate to visit Down Under - Roberts worries that domestic tourism will stagnate.
"From a New Zealand, perspective, it doesn't help us much," he added.
However, scenario modelling of the industry's recovery - released by Tourism New Zealand last month - showed the number of Kiwis travelling around the country in January may see a year-on-year jump of 118 percent.
How would Travel Cards work?
The Travel Card proposal was initially put forward by TIA as part of its 100-day plan proposal for the Government, released just days after Labour was re-elected for a second term in October.
"We submitted the plan to the Government directly after the elections and it has been seen by the Tourism Minister," TIA Communications Manager Ann-Marie Johnson said to Newshub.
The initial release outlines how the implementation of the Travel Card scheme would supplement the industry's recovery, stimulating domestic tourism outside of school holidays and weekends.
According to TIA, a $200 Travel Card could be issued to every New Zealander and linked with special deals from participating tourism and hospitality businesses nationwide, to be used weekdays only from March 1, 2021.
"New Zealanders prefer to travel at weekends and during school holidays, leaving lower demand on weekdays," Johnson explained.
"This makes it difficult for tourism operators to provide full-time employment so a Travel Card would support jobs around the country."
Despite domestic spending reaching record levels post-lockdown, Tourism NZ says it won't be enough to make up for lost international business.
Before COVID-19 found a foothold on New Zealand's shores, international visitors injected about $17 billion into the economy each year - leaving a huge gap that cannot be filled by Kiwis alone.
"If all the Kiwis who spent their money overseas last year spend it here this year, we're still going to be… $3 billion to $4 billion short," Tourism NZ CEO Stephen England-Hall told Newshub last month.
However, the modelling by Tourism NZ did show that if New Zealand were to open its border to Australians by January 2021 - a timeframe the organisation described as a "pragmatic estimate" - an extra $1 billion could be added to our economy by the following September.