Hilton Queenstown

New Zealand’s hotel industry body is calling for the next government to work collaboratively with industry to solve tourism funding and structural challenges, ahead of the country’s general election on Saturday.

Hotel Council Aotearoa (HCA) said reforming tourism funding in New Zealand could transform small towns and tourist destinations over the next decade.

“No matter who forms the next government, there must be a change in attitude and approach toward tourism,” said HCA Strategic Director James Doolan.

“New Zealanders wanted the tourism industry to build back better after Covid, but without genuine reform of funding and governance structures, we won’t see improvement.

“The hotel sector stands ready to commit time, talent and funding to help the next Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism shape positive change for the entire tourism industry.”

The need for tourism industry funding reform was a consistent theme at the 2023 Aotearoa Hotel Industry Conference and Exhibition (AHICE Aotearoa), co-hosted by HM Magazine and HCA.

AHICE Aotearoa drew over 550 local and international delegates including to the Takina Wellington Convention and Exhibition Centre this week including leaders from major hotel operators such as Accor and IHG in the Pacific region.

HCA says hoteliers have repeatedly requested closer collaboration with central and local government to help drive transformation in the tourism industry.

“We don’t need central government to tell us to target ‘high value’ travellers,” said Doolan. 

“Due to physical isolation and the high cost of air travel, New Zealand is already an expensive destination for international visitors. ‘Higher value low volume’ is a meaningless catchphrase without a real plan for how to achieve it.”

Prior to Covid, New Zealand’s tourist hotspots were welcoming large volumes of transient visitors, but HCA says there was no automatic flow of funding to help deal with resulting infrastructure challenges.

Unlike in Australia, GST collected by central government on tourist spending is not partially remitted back to local communities, something HCA has been calling for.

“Tourist destinations must share in the financial upside from tourism,” said Doolan. 

“Communities want to see tangible improvements to their local infrastructure and amenities, rather than central government deciding how, when and where to spend NZ$3.9 billion in tourism GST each year.  HCA believes local communities can be trusted to invest well in their own infrastructure, attractions and amenities.”

Tourism was New Zealand’s largest export earner before Covid, with 220,000 people (8% of all workers) directly employed in tourism roles, according to HCA.

“New Zealand is a unique and wonderful destination,” said Doolan. 

“But on tourism funding, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.  The next government of New Zealand must show aspiration to identify the best tourism funding mechanisms from overseas and work in partnership with businesses and communities to quickly adapt, improve and implement them here. 

“HCA has been doing the groundwork on this for three years and is ready to help solve this entrenched problem for the benefit of all New Zealanders.”