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Mark Burton Speech: Queenstown Tourism Conference

Mark Burton Speech: Queenstown Tourism Conference

Cultural Cringe

We have a lot to celebrate in Tourism in New Zealand, and when I look at those images, I have no doubt why the last three years have seen New Zealand become one of the hottest destinations in the world.

But only recently, Tourism New Zealand released research showing that many Kiwis suffer from “cultural cringe”.

In other words, we tend to downplay, undersell or under-value our culture, sometimes to the point of not even mentioning the vast array of cultural opportunities on offer to our international visitors.

The research also revealed that our international visitors think that our culture is absolutely outstanding, and only wish they had more time to explore it.

Such research is helpful. It not only highlights the good progress that has already been made, but also shows us clearly the even greater opportunity that exists as we come to terms with the way in which we showcase ourselves to the world.

International Media Profile

I’m not one of those people who under-rates New Zealand. On the contrary, as Minister of Tourism, I take every opportunity to express my pride in this island nation of ours.

In the last few months, I have visited New York City and Tokyo to host special screenings of Whale Rider—a film which unashamedly celebrates both New Zealand’s unique Maori culture, and our well-known Kiwi spirit of independence.

I also spent time in Los Angeles attending Kiwilink, Tourism New Zealand’s largest annual trade-training event—an ideal chance to showcase New Zealand’s tourism products to members of the North American travel trade.

There, our unique country is becoming more and more well known, and our image as a desirable destination is growing by the day—particularly, through the growing success of the 100% Pure campaign

Through such projects as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the America’s cup, and our ongoing and successful partnership with the Discovery Channel, we have received unprecedented international publicity. New Zealand has been featured on syndicated programmes in the US and Canada, in high-profile prime time Japanese and French television programmes, and been profiled in numerous magazine and newspaper articles or features—most recently on 50 pages of Time magazine.

We have seen major feature films such as The Last Samurai shot in our regions, with plans in the works for several more.

And Peter Jackson showed the world that we are not only a country of astounding beauty, but a land with some of the most creative and innovative people in the world (and they have the Oscars to prove it!).

To top it all off, Australian Federal Tourism Minister Joe Hockey has only recently publicly praised the strength of both our tourism market as a whole, and the success of our 100% Pure New Zealand campaign in particular—the “best in the world,” according to him.

Industry growth and partnership with government

We do indeed have a lot to celebrate. The past few years have seen both a quantum leap in our international profile and incredible growth in visitor numbers. At the same time, we have seen the development and early implementation of New Zealand’s Tourism Strategy 2010.

When I became Minister of Tourism nearly four years ago, there was no recent history of partnerships between the government and the sector—even though tourism generates ten percent of New Zealand’s GDP, is directly and indirectly responsible for one in eleven jobs, supports over 15,000 businesses, and is one of our largest earners of foreign exchange.

Our government has built strong partnerships with the industry—partnerships that have survived and strengthened through prosperity and challenges alike.

They have seen us through the aftermath of September 11 and the Bali bombing in October last year. Now, we are again working together as we deal with the short-term impacts of the SARS virus—and there are clear signs that we are in recovery and will end this year in positive growth mode.

Indeed, many in the industry are predicting that this summer will be the biggest season New Zealand has ever seen.

The government is committed to keep working with the industry to find creative solutions to both the short and long-term issues that will always exist within the sector. Specifically, we are committed to building a sustainable, yield-driven industry—one that strikes a balance between managing the impacts of our growing tourism sector and maximising its obvious economic benefits.

I ‘m sure this is a theme my good friend and colleague, Hon Chris Carter will touch on in his address to you.

Quality

At the heart of a sustainable sector lies one key point: quality. The long-term future of our industry depends on every visitor receiving a world-class experience—in their accommodation, their food, the activities they choose, and the environments they visit.

This emphasis on quality was emphasised in Strategy 2010. As a direct response, the Government has significantly enhanced funding for the Qualmark brand.

Qualmark aims to provide our guests with a reliable, easily recognised, standardised quality assurance system.

By using the Qualmark system to ensure that a high standard is maintained across all aspects of the tourism sector, visitors, the sector, and New Zealand as a whole will all benefit.

Last year, Qualmark was repositioned as New Zealand tourism’s official quality agency, and branded with a new quality mark that incorporates—the silver fern, New Zealand’s internationally recognised symbol. The new brand is now visible in Tourism New Zealand’s programmes, Qualmark’s campaigns and publicity.

The Qualmark licensing system has also experienced significant growth, and now comprises two quality assurance systems – a classification and star grading system for accommodation, and a quality endorsement system for other tourism businesses.

So, in addition to the accommodation sector, virtually any type of tourism business can apply for a licence to use the Qualmark - from adventure activities, cultural, and nature experiences to rental car companies, bus and coach operators, museums, tours, retail, cafes and more.

The growth and scope of Qualmark over the last 12 months was evident at TRENZ this year. Over 40 percent of operators exhibiting at TRENZ were Qualmark licence holders—an impressive increase from 15 percent at TRENZ 2002.

In all, 1000 tourism businesses are now either licensed to use, or in the process of qualifying for the Qualmark.

In fact, I was delighted this morning to announce the 1000th business to sign up for Qualmark—The Royal Albatross Centre on Dunedin’s Otago Peninsula.

More and more operators are realising the value of the system as a capability-building tool, enhancing both business development and competitive edge. For operators, the Qualmark system offers increased credibility, enhanced visibility, and improved profitability.

Information and infrastructure

Just as quality is key to building the kind of sustainable, long-term future outlined in Strategy 2010, then this level of quality must also extend to the information available to both the industry and our visitors.

A well-informed tourism sector can make the right decisions to reach its full market potential, and guests who receive reliable information on quality products are far more likely to have an enjoyable New Zealand experience. Several recent initiatives are helping to make this happen.

The launch of the Tourism Research Council’s website early this year has brought together, for the first time, the full range of tourism sector research data available on line, in one centralised location and in one format. The site’s dynamic format, which allows tailored searches, means that the user can get the specific data they want.

Strategy 2010 identified the Visitor Information Network as key to delivering the kind of quality visitor experience that strengthens the sector as a whole.

It aimed to make the Network the most valued source of objective New Zealand information and travel services available, and the government backed this up with the funding that has made the new ‘i-SITE’ brand possible.

i-SITE offers our visitors another recognisable brand of quality. It not only plays a vital role in providing our visitors with the most comprehensive, accurate and objective information available, it also ensures that they experience high quality service and hospitality in getting that information.

We also need good quality information about our infrastructure. The government is working to evaluate New Zealand’s infrastructure needs through the Growth and Innovation Framework.

Certainly, tourism is a large user of infrastructure, and we have recognised this in the Ministry of Tourism’s work programme.

I’d like to speak briefly about an investigation into the costs imposed by visitors on water and sewerage infrastructure that has just been completed in four case study areas.

Rotorua, Kaikoura, Queenstown Lakes and Southland (for Stewart Island) District Councils all agreed to participate. I would like to thank these Councils for their invaluable co-operation and contribution to the study.

Findings of the study indicate that Councils are doing an excellent job in designing rates and financial contributions policies to fairly recover funding from those who are imposing the costs.

However, there are difficulties for small communities who have high tourism flows. Ray Salter, General Manager of the Ministry of Tourism, will outline the key findings of the report in more detail when he speaks to you tomorrow.

TRCNZ Forecasts 2003 - 2009

Let me say again—the sector has a great deal to celebrate. Today, it is my great pleasure to launch the latest forecasts of the Tourism Research Council New Zealand (TRCNZ), which set out clear expectations of future tourism demand in New Zealand.

Since I established the TRCNZ over three years ago, the Council’s annual forecasts have built up an impressive track record of accuracy. As a result, the forecasts provide a very solid basis upon which the sector can plan for and invest in its future.

I would like to acknowledge TRCNZ Chair Sean Murray and the team at the Ministry of Tourism for the work they have put in to facilitate the forecasting programme.

Tourism has been experiencing a strong growth pattern over the past few years, and I’m pleased to note that this year’s forecast indicates a continuation of this positive trend.

Indeed, the 2003 to 2009 forecasts are very consistent with the forecasts generated in earlier years of the programme. In the period to 2009, we expect 5.7 percent growth in international arrivals annually, with international visitor expenditure showing an increase of nearly double that at 9.7 percent.

By 2009, this trend should translate to an increase in arrivals of 47.5 percent, but a growth in expenditure of 91.2 percent.

These forecasts reinforce that the industry is headed in the right direction, with value well ahead of volume.

Perhaps even more important is the fact that these forecasts set out what is likely to happen if we maintain the market’s current situation.

They do not reflect what might happen if we can make the relationship between numbers and yield work even more in our favour. That, then, is my challenge to the sector—outperforming the forecast—a challenge I look forward to being part of.

Conclusion

I see tourism as nothing less than New Zealand’s most exciting and potentially valuable industry.

We are fast becoming one of the world’s premiere destinations with some of the most spectacular and distinctive natural environments to be found on the planet.

We have a culture that is diverse, colourful, and unique. Our people are friendly, easy-going, hospitable, and proud of their country—if a little shy about admitting it!

And, we have achieved an internationally high profile—people know who we are, and they want to come here.

Some focus on the short-term setbacks that the sector will always be faced with, and worry when the industry doesn’t achieve record growth in every single survey.

I say it is far more important to look at how quickly we have recovered from the challenges of the past two years—(a situation that makes us the envy of many other, larger countries)—and to focus on our current recovery and future development.

Equally, it would be simple to put the sector’s success down to luck, media coverage, and fortunate timing. It is true that New Zealand has had some very positive events and projects over the past few years, and it would have been easy to get complacent.

Instead, both the industry and the government have focused on building a long-term, sustainable future on the foundation of these circumstances, and I acknowledge the hard work done by the entire sector.

But let me conclude by saying; there remains much more to do. Building a reputation as a high quality destination may take a great deal of time and commitment – but retaining it, in an ever more competitive and discerning world market, will take a great deal more! But that is what we have to do.

We are blessed with exceptional natural resources and opportunities. It is our responsibility to protect, preserve, and enhance them – for the benefit and enjoyment of all New Zealanders, and our guests – now, and for future generations.

It is easy for us to forget that it is our environments, be they natural, made, or cultural, that so appeal to the high-yield, interactive travellers we seek, the same environments that we so often take for granted.

We need to try and stand back, and see New Zealand’s unique culture and lifestyle through the eyes of our visitors. And, I want to tell you, when you do, the view from there is, quite simply, extraordinary.

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