The tourism industry is in line for more targeted assistance, but Tourism Minister Stuart Nash has ruled out a regional wage subsidy.

The tourism industry is in line for more targeted assistance, but Tourism Minister Stuart Nash has ruled out a regional wage subsidy.
Nash set out his tourism priorities in a speech at the Otago University Tourism Policy School conference in Queenstown on Friday, and made it clear the global Covid-19 pandemic would force the industry to significantly change the way it operated.
Nash said the interruption to tourism caused by ongoing border closures had provided an opportunity to take a hard look at the sector and to fix long-standing issues.
“I think most New Zealanders all recognise that prior to Covid-19, unsustainable tourism levels put far too much undue pressure on communities and our natural attractions and many communities have struggled to absorb.”
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Tourism Minister Stuart Nash speaks to media after his speech at the Otago University Tourism Policy School Conference in Queenstown on Friday. Asked if he knew how many jobs had been lost from tourism and how many tourism businesses had closed, he said he did not.
Nash said mass-scale international tourism was unlikely before 2022, and he was deeply concerned about the situation unfolding in areas like Queenstown, the West Coast, Fiordland, the Mackenzie District and Kaikura, which were heavily reliant on overseas visitors.
Targeted initiatives were under consideration to support the worst affected communities, but he said regional wage subsidies were “not sustainable nor fair”.
One option was to make it easier to hibernate a company, and then provide support when it was ready to start up again once international tourists returned.
Other potential steps until the borders reopened included help to diversify regional economies over-reliant on international tourism, and deploying tourism workers to other sectors.
Nash said his vision for tourism still had to be approved by Cabinet, but he hoped to make an announcement about further support before the May Budget.
Nash said areas like Queenstown that were heavily dependent on tourism would get assistance to diversify their economies, so they were less vulnerable in future to the impact of an event like the global panndemic. (File photo)
However, he ruled out anything like the controversial strategic assets protection programme (STAPP) grants, which were the subject of an investigation by the auditor-general.
“We have heard loud and clear that’s not what the industry wants.”
Nash said the Government planned to take a closer look at existing local levies, such as the $35 a head International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy, which does not currently apply to Australians
“We’re missing a trick here. Australia charges Kiwis, why shouldn’t we charge Australians?”
Pricing strategies for public assets were also being considered and Nash said they were looking at “innovative technology” to ensure overseas visitors contributed to the upkeep on National Parks.
He supported the introduction of more differential pricing for locals and international visitors.
“The costs and negative impacts associated with tourism must be mitigated or priced into the visitor experience, and not funded by New Zealand rate and taxpayers.”
Tourism required “more fundamental change” once the borders reopened, he said.
“Consistent advice from within the sector, from small communities, and from external agencies like the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, demonstrate we cannot go back to the tourism model that existed prior to Covid-19.”
Nash announced the tourism infrastructure fund, previously used to help councils pay for tourism-related infrastructure, would shortly open for applications, and priority would be given to areas that needed it most.
New Zealand had about 20,000 tourism businesses pre-Covid and more than 300 applied for Government grants designed to save key attractions.
In the past, much of the funding had gone into public toilets and facilities to alleviate the negative impact of freedom camping, an area Nash had also promised to toughen up on and he said a discussion document would be released shortly.
“I’m looking to change the rules around freedom camping, which isn’t free at all for taxpayers or ratepayers who have to pick up the tab,” he said.
Asked about the possibility of bed taxes, something Queenstown mayor Jim Boult has championed, Nash said they were looking at the issue nationally, but signalled it might be through targeted local authority rates.
“We’re trying to find a way that would make it easier for councils to make their own determination around whether they want to do this or not. But we [the Government] won’t be introducing a bed tax ourselves.”
Minister of Tourism Stuart Nash talks about his key focus for the tourism industry.
Nash said the trans-Tasman bubble would help tourism businesses in isolated areas such as Te Anau to survive, and he was at pains to emphasise the assistance already given to Queenstown where businesses had received $27 million in grants and loans from the strategic assets fund.
Boult said a third of Queenstown businesses did not think they would survive beyond the next two or three months.
When asked what support the Government could give them before the trans-Tasman bubble opened, Nash said “wait and see what happens”.
When pressed further, he suggested they go to their local Chamber of Commerce to ensure they were receiving all the support they were entitled to from the Government.
Boult said he had asked for a support package for tourism businesses, but his proposal had been turned down.
Queenstown Lakes District mayor Jim Boult has lobbied hard for extra assistance for the region.
“The Government has talked about businesses needing to pivot to stay alive. If you’re a restaurant owner in Queenstown, how do you pivot?” Boult said.
“Advice from the Government is not going to help. If there was a way to change things to stay in business I think they would have already done that by now.”
Nash also said regions that traditionally relied on tourism needed to diversify.
When asked how regions like the West Coast could do that given that they were unable to mine, or log native timber, he said it was up to local communities to work with the Government to figure it out.
“What I’m not going to do is go down and tell communities what they must do, but what I am really prepared to do is sit down with those local communities and hear their ideas around the opportunities that may exist if Cabinet passes the proposals.”
Boult said the Queenstown Lakes District Council was working with the private sector so the area was not so reliant on the tourism dollar.
“We are doing a lot of work around tech, film, medical tourism and education.”
Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts agreed the industry needed to change, but the Government needed to take immediate action and provide a clear road map to recovery. 
“Tourism is taking one for the team of 5 million to keep New Zealand safe. That sacrifice needs to be acknowledged and responded to,” he said in a statement.
“We look forward to seeing the details which we were told would be coming in a couple of weeks.”
Co-chair of the Glacier Country Tourism Group Rob Jewell said he was disappointed in Nash’s comments. 
He said a survey of the group’s members showed 86 per cent of businesses in the area had adjusted the way they work to suit the domestic market. 
“The reality is we don’t have enough customers. Glacier Country is too far from the main metropolitan centres. Minister Nash has talked about a package but we still don’t know what it is,” he said.
“He knows the West Coast is one of the five most affected regions so why not share it with us.”
The details of a package, along with opening up the Australian bubble, could add some certainty to businesses struggling to survive, Jewell believes.
“We are still kept in the dark and that’s the frustrating part,” he said.