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Burton speech: Food & Beverage Trainers Conference

Speech to Food and Beverage Trainers Conference, AUT Auckland

17 March 2001

Hon Mark Burton Speech

Food and Beverage Trainers Conference, AUT Auckland

It is a great pleasure to be with you here today at the Auckland University of Technology to speak at the annual Food and Beverage Trainers Conference.

It is clear from your decision to invite me as Minister of Tourism to be the keynote speaker that this group recognises the vital role that the hospitality services play in the New Zealand tourism industry.

Food and beverages and the way that they are presented to customers are of critical importance to tourism.

Real advances have been made in recent years as this country has defined a fresh, distinctive and high quality cuisine that has added tremendously to New Zealand's position as a high quality visitor destination.

In this respect, I noted with interest an article written by the British wine writer Jancis Robinson who was in New Zealand in January to attend the Pinot Noir 2001 Conference. In this article, she wrote:

"At the end of the Conference, we delegates were hauled up on stage to say what had surprised us the most. On reflection, what I should have cited was the outstanding quality of New Zealand food and cooking nowadays."

This statement was written in the context of a very glowing account of New Zealand's glamour wine variety, but it deflected the "surprise element " on to our food. This, I believe, reflect the innovation and enthusiasm of our producers, our chefs - and our service staff. I note that the theme for this year's conference is "Raising Standards". This will also be a key theme of my presentation.

Firstly, I want to briefly set out the current state of the tourism industry, how it contributes to New Zealand and what it means for you as food and beverage trainers.

By any definition, tourism is a tremendously large and important industry and one that is growing rapidly. Domestic tourism is worth some $6.9 billion a year and the international visitors spend was $4.7 billion in New Zealand last year.

That's an $11 billion industry, and the outlook forceasts predict steady annual growth of 6 to 7 percent. So, the outlook is exciting. The boom season we are currently experiencing provides clear evidence of how a busy tourism industry adds to the vibrancy of New Zealand life, and to the economic performance of our commercial sector.

Make no mistake ? you are a key part of this vibrant tourism industry. Around 37 percent of the demand for food and beverage services, as measured by Statistics New Zealand, is generated by international and domestic travellers.

For the restaurants, cafes, hotels and bars that are getting more tourists coming through their doors, this means more jobs, the opportunity for business development and better returns on investment.

This relationship between the food and beverage industry and tourism was one that I looked at in detail at the Wine Tourism Conference held in Blenheim in November last year.

The themes that emerged at that conference are just as relevant here: tremendous growth opportunities, the need to work together and develop relationships, and in particular, the need to maintain and enhance service standards so that a service ethos becomes evermore widely accepted.

I emphasis this latter point because in my many discussions with visitors and the industry, and through the correspondence I receive, it is very apparent that service quality is vital to a successful tourism experience.

Indeed, one bad service experience can have a remarkable effect on a visitor's overall feeling of satisfaction of their holiday.

To illustrate this point, I would like to quote to you from some correspondence I have received recently:

"We had a wonderful time, in both Islands with people, places and scenery. We covered about 3,000 kilometres and really enjoyed ourselves, apart from one time?"

Needless to say, the one time related to the service the correspondent received on just one occasion. In this case from a transportation provider. The great bulk of the letter related to that one bad experience.

Another correspondent wrote:

"What has prompted me to write this letter ? is that both our reception and departure were so at odds to the rest of out New Zealand experience. Whilst we were not able to see the South Island, I fully intend to return to explore further an exciting and vibrant country full of potential and look forward to getting a better greeting and farewell."

Thankfully, in both cases, the writers had had tremendous experiences in New Zealand, but their visits had been sufficiently marred to motivate them to take the time to write to me as the Minister of Tourism. I have to tell you, not all such letters report any intention to return to New Zealand.

What really worries me are those visitors that have a bad experience, take it on the chin, leave dissatisfied and then proceed to tell their friends at home about their experiences. Those who write will certainly be the tip of the iceberg.

Let me give you the other extreme because I certainly also receive ? I'm pleased to say ? correspondence such as this:

Dear Minister: In the company of two friends from Melbourne, I recently spent two weeks in New Zealand. During this period, we were blown away by the high standards of food, wine and service.

Without exception, we experienced not only fine wine and food everywhere we went, but also expert advice and attention from helpful, knowledgeable kiwis throughout the hospitality industry.

It is always good to get excellent service. However, when this is combined with true knowledge of local wines and produce, it is remarkable.

We would like to bring to your attention to some of the businesses that impressed us most of all.

My Australian correspondent then went on to list 10 wineries, restaurants, hotels and cafes. She concluded:

"We are recommending a New Zealand holiday to all our friends?.."

This is the very best long-term marketing of the high quality destination that New Zealand is. What is clear is that we need to continue to be committed to excellence and put every effort into raising industry standards so that we can both minimise those visit-marring experiences and recognise poor standards and do something about them.

In operating tourism and service businesses we have to be acutely aware that to be successful, we have to meet the needs of our customers. We can and should do it with a New Zealand flavour, but we must always strive to be world class. In the end, it is meeting the standards and expectations of our customers that counts.

One of the key areas of competitive advantage New Zealand enjoys as a visitor destination lies with the friendliness of our people. There is no question about this, but it needs to be supported by professional service standards.

As the key educators for the food and beverage industry, it is your responsibility to equip people with the skills to meet tourism sector expectations.

In Europe, being a waiter is seen as a highly respectable career ? as a skilled profession. It has not necessarily widely enjoyed that standing here in New Zealand. It is still seen by many as a temporary or short-term job ? something you do between so-called real jobs.

You all have a very important role to play in changing this perception about 'front of house' staff ? who have just as much opportunity to enhance or harm a businesses reputation as a chef or hotel manager.

If we are to offer tourists and other customers a quality service, we need quality, professional people interacting with them.

That means the best training and adequate remuneration and rewards. Quite simply, if we value our clients, we must appropriately value our staff.

The food and beverage sectors have a particular place at the sharp end of tourism customer contact. As the educators to these sectors, I encourage you to make service quality integral to all you do.

Not only will this be of value to our current customers, but also it is an investment in our future customers.

You don't have to address this issue in isolation. The Government and the tourism industry are currently examining such key issues as quality service provision through the New Zealand Tourism Strategy process.

As Minister, I expect that the Strategy will have recommendations that will require my careful consideration, but I am mindful that it is not a strategy for the Government, but rather a strategy for the industry and New Zealand, in charting the way forward for this important and exciting industry.

I look forward to receiving the draft Strategy and to it being widely discussed and debated, so that its recommendations can be implemented with wide support.

These are exciting times in the food and beverages sectors, and for tourism.

The food and beverage sectors are keys to New Zealand increasing the quality of the visitor experience for international and domestic visitors alike.

In doing so, all New Zealanders are benefiting from the better quality of goods and services available and from the opportunities that arise as a result.

As key educators for these sectors, I recognise your achievements and I will follow with great personal interest your progress as your industries, and tourism, continue to grow and prosper together.

Thank you again for the opportunity to join you today, and for the commitment you are making to building high standards of service in the food and beverage sector.


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