Rebooting our tourism industry

Published on 21 May 2020


Doing all we can to bolster our economy in a post-COVID-19 world is now a priority. We are already working on a number of infrastructure proposals we hope the Government will fund to help boost the construction industry. Another key sector in the Far North is tourism. Visitors have long been attracted to our forgiving climate, cultural icons and historic places, and an incredibly varied marine environment. Providing for those visitors has become an increasingly significant part of the district’s income.

In recent years, foreign visitors have become an important part of the tourism mix and many businesses are reliant on the income they generate. That trade came to an abrupt halt in March when the nation closed its borders. With no way of knowing when foreign tourists will return, many of our tourism businesses are now facing a very uncertain future.

But there is some good news. The Government last week announced a $400 million Tourism Recovery Fund in the budget and has also extended the wage subsidy to help businesses get through the COVID-19 economic downturn. Air New Zealand has resumed flights to Northland. While at a significantly reduced level, the number of flights will increase as restrictions are relaxed and demand climbs.

And demand will increase. According to a survey released last week by Horizon Research, 34 per cent of New Zealand adults, or around 1,229,600 million people, intend to take a domestic holiday in the next 12 months. Of those, over 378,000 say they will holiday in the Bay of Islands. That is great news for tourism operators, both large and small, and one of our most iconic attractions, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, has already re-opened its tours and performances.

It is our many smaller and medium sized tourism operators that face the most immediate challenge after losing a significant portion of their annual income during the virus lockdown. I am working with industry leaders and business associations on a campaign to reboot that industry as quickly as we can. We’re about to launch a dedicated Facebook page called Far North Escapes that will link accommodation to restaurants and to activity providers so we can tap into the local knowledge that makes visiting us extra special. The goal is to persuade Kiwis to ‘see their own backyard’” starting Queen’s Birthday weekend. The promotion will be carried on social media and support the district’s ‘shop local’ campaign. Discussions around developing a website linking all our towns to support this campaign and continue collaboration has been one positive outcome of COVID-19.

Encouraging visitors to our district does not mean neglecting important safety measures to prevent a resurgence of the virus. Ensuring protocols are in place is part of discussions with local service providers. We are lucky up here, we have the wide-open spaces and uncrowded beaches that make physical distancing relatively easy. Let’s welcome Kiwis to our place, and help our businesses get through the winter.