Speech for TRENZ Hui 2022: "Ready to Welcome"

It is my pleasure to be here at TRENZ 2022, as I know that the conversations that happen here will play a crucial role in shaping New Zealand’s tourism recovery.

That’s why TRENZ remains such an important event in the tourism calendar. It’s also why it was a pleasure to recently announce funding of $1.5m to ensure that TRENZ 2023 will be a world-class event, while the online platform TRENZ Connect will connect operators with travel and tourism buyers from around the world.

I want to thank Tourism Industry Aotearoa for putting on this event on behalf of the Tourism Industry New Zealand Trust as we begin to reopen to our visitor markets around the world.

Looking back, time last year, our focus was on supporting our communities to get through the challenges ahead.

At the time, it was a very uncertain environment. We didn’t know what reconnecting with the world would look like or when it would happen.

Now, one year on, I stand here today with the air borders open to most of our key markets and with cruise travellers and the rest of the world to follow shortly.  

This is another step forward for New Zealand’s tourism recovery, and will allow us to fully reconnect to the world of international visitors in time for our traditional peak visitor season.

I’m also hopeful in time for a glorious ski season across our fields down south and in the central North Island.

The Prime Minister’s trade missions to Asia, the United States, Australia and Europe this year will be a key part of re-igniting our international tourism.

As we speak she is in the U.S… leading a tourism and trade delegation, following her successful tourism and trade mission to Japan and Singapore.

Jacinda Ardern has made it a priority to elevate the profile of this country in the minds of potential visitors as part of our reconnecting strategy.

Please be assured that tourism is a vital part of the economic strategy going forward and the Prime Minister is our number one supporter.

With travellers planning their visits months in advance of the New Zealand summer, now is the right time to be visible in the US market letting Americans know we are open for business and travel.

However, I probably don’t need to tell you that the world has changed drastically in the last two years.

What worked before the pandemic is no longer a guaranteed recipe for success. It will take time before the number of visitors we saw in 2019 are back on our shores, but you will never see anything out of my office that talks about success in terms of tourist numbers. It’s not a target I have any time for.

The opportunity to shape the nature of our industry is very real now. The opportunity to live up to our huge potential and global competitive advantage as Brand New Zealand. And to rebuild our industry with sustainability, regeneration and innovation at its core.

Now more than ever, we need to ensure tourism leads the way.

My priorities for the tourism sector have remained the same throughout the past two years.

A transition to high-value tourism has been one of my core messages.

But I want to be clear. When I talk about high value, I mean those who give more than they take.

Across the social, economic, cultural and environmental domains, we need visitors who engage with our communities and who embody our unique values.  

We want freedom campers that are responsible with their waste and share the values of our local communities.

We want families to come on holiday and show kaitiakitanga, which represents care and respect for the land.

We want people who go off the beaten track to seek out new experiences and who engage with Māori culture and heritage.

Most of all, we want to transform out international visitors into great storytellers, to recount the wonderful times and experiences they had while here on holiday. These tourists have the potential to be our most powerful brand ambassadors if we can get it right.

I think everyone here today wants an industry where this vision is realised. And I know many of us recognise there are challenges that remain ahead.

We are also all aware that consumers in target markets are becoming more climate conscious than ever before. New Zealand’s distance to market means that we are becoming a more challenging destination to sell.

Our own commitment to climate action also raises questions about how we reconcile our exports, including tourism, with the climate impact of getting goods and people to market. 

These issues are challenging for a tourism industry that is looking to get back on its feet after a once in a generation event.

I know that tourism is an industry particularly vulnerable to a global reduction in consumer spending.

But I also know that when we are faced with new and unprecedented conditions, the tourism sector is resilient and the businesses represented at TRENZ today have survived a volatile two years of worldwide uncertainty.

People have been dreaming about visiting New Zealand for two years, as TNZ has done a great job of building aspiration. We need to make sure we deliver on our global brand proposition, and we exceed visitors’ expectations.

We can achieve this by playing to our strengths. New Zealanders are famous for our innovation, creativity, and determination.

We must use the uniquely challenging circumstances we now find ourselves in, to spur the development of new ideas, new ways of doing business and to reconnect with our markets.

We must find ways of maximising the many positive outcomes of tourism in New Zealand, while increasing the efficiency and resilience of our businesses, improving working conditions, and creating opportunity for regeneration in the environment that supports our industry.  

New Zealand has the opportunity and the capability to become the most innovative and future focussed tourism destination in the world. I truly believe this.

Despite the last two years and the challenges we still face, I firmly believe tourism can be at the forefront of the regenerative, low carbon, high wage economy that New Zealand is striving to create.

I know it’s easy to talk about innovation, and entirely different to follow through. That’s why I have announced the $54 million Innovation Programme for Tourism Recovery.

Innovation is critical to tourism’s future success.

The programme is being designed to develop real, transformational, and practical solutions that can be applied across the tourism system to help create a sustainable, innovative and low carbon model. 

It will fund initiatives that seek to transform the tourism sector by addressing tourism’s climate impacts, resilience and sustainability, or by providing technological solutions to lift productivity and capability.

It will also be based on a sustainable co-investment model to allow Government and industry to share the risk associated with the kind of transformational innovation that the industry needs to adopt if it is to be successful in a post-COVID context.

New Zealand will reclaim its position as the world leading tourism destination, both in terms of the experiences we provide, and in the way we conduct business.

Currently we are still early in the design of the Innovation Programme for Tourism Recovery, and I want to take the time to make sure the design is robust and to engage with key experts. 

We will share more detail on the Programme later this year.

I’m deeply privileged to work beside you all. You know New Zealand.

The experiences you sell and the stories you share to our visitors about the land and the people will drive the tourism sector’s recovery for New Zealand.

It is this wisdom, knowledge and depth of experience that visitors truly remember.

Now, more than ever, it is crucial that we focus on tourism’s ability to inspire and innovate. This is what will carry us through the challenges we are now facing.

Together, we will continue to lay the groundwork to affect real, systemic change.

For our communities, our tamariki and New Zealand’s future generations.

Thank you, ngā mihi nui.