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Nelson Tasman Tourism Planning Conference Speech

Hon Mark Burton
Nelson Tasman Tourism Planning Conference

Speech to officially open the Nelson Tasman Tourism Planning Conference.

Tena koutou katoa.

I'm delighted to be here this afternoon to officially open the Nelson Tasman Tourism Planning Conference.

It's always a pleasure to be able to support a forum such as this where people are coming together to plan the tourism opportunities available to them in the future.

I recognise that a number of you here today are not working directly in the tourism industry. That's great from my perspective because it gives me the opportunity to expound to a whole new audience about the importance of tourism to the economy and to communities!

In June, I had the very great pleasure of officially confirming tourism's status as New Zealand's number one export earner.

The dairy industry has always given us a run for our money, however, the latest Tourism Satellite Account figures leave us with no doubt that our record breaking number of visitor arrivals, and crucially, level of expenditure in recent times has had the most significant impact on New Zealand's economic well-being.

Total tourism spending of approximately $16.5 billion by visitors equates to 9.6% of New Zealand's GDP. The $7.4 billion contributed to our economy by international visitors adds up to nearly 18% of New Zealand's total exports.

These results confirm what I hope that everyone sitting here is already well aware of - tourism is a dynamic and vibrant industry that generates real and positive benefits for New Zealanders. It plays a vital role in regional economic development, it's a sustainable driver of the New Zealand economy and it is one of our most important export industries.

But what does all this mean for Nelson-Tasman? In 2002 international and domestic visitors together brought over $350 million into your region. By 2009, it is expected that international visitors alone will contribute around the same amount with the total contribution from tourism set to increase to almost $540 million.

The sector currently provides an estimated 172,000 jobs around New Zealand - just over one job in every ten. Nelson - Tasman can, of course, expect it's share of this employment growth.

But it also means that you have to plan for that growth if you want to maximise the opportunities that it will present. The kind of visitors that we want to attract, Interactive Travellers, won't settle for anything less than an outstanding experience when they visit Nelson-Tasman. And you as a region should not be settling for anything less in terms of delivering that to them.

More carefully considered management of destinations is going to be required all around New Zealand to ensure that those qualities that differentiate us from others in the global market place are protected and will continue to play a significant role in our tourism industry, and therefore, stand out in the minds of our visitors.

The government is certainly willing to play a part. We recognise that if tourism is to grow, and we are to meet or exceed our visitors' expectations, we need the right people, in the right place, with the right skills, at the right time.

To clarify what this means in practice for the tourism industry, the Ministry of Tourism, in partnership with the Tourism Industry Association and the three Industry Training Organisations are conducting a study into the future work force and skill requirements.

In this way we are doing our part to plan for the availability of human resources and capability into the future. However operators also need to play a part as well, to ensure that the incentives are there for people to want to enter the industry and stay in it.

Tourism has, in many situations, been characterised in the past as an industry that pays low wages to those at the front line. In a competitive labour market, operators need to assess whether they're being realistic in the wages and benefits that are offered to employees.

In this region, tourism is competing with seafood, agriculture, horticulture, construction, forestry and a growing cultural sector for the managers, the front line staff and the support staff that you need to run your businesses successfully.

With another bumper season of arrivals and expenditure predicted, now more than ever, we need to reinvest in the people that make up the industry so that we can develop sustainably - and so that we do deliver quality. As well as investing in our people, we all need to invest in the infrastructure that supports our industry. Government acknowledges that rapid growth in tourism can place pressures on some small communities.

For example, where rating bases are small, the per capita investment needed to build water and sewerage infrastructure to meet the needs of visitors is many times more than that in larger population centres.

In response to this, Budget 2004 has allocated $11 million to subsidise infrastructure needed to meet tourism demand on water and sewerage treatment systems in small communities. This may include expanding, upgrading or building facilities to cope with the demands of tourism. This is another clear signal that central government is willing to partner with local government agencies to help. But it must be a partnership that includes local government because there are legitimate costs to meet - just as there are clear benefits to reap for the local economy.

There has been a real advantage in having the New Zealand Tourism Strategy as a guide during this period of growth. It has helped focus our attention on issues such as workforce and infrastructure planning, quality and sustainability.

Clearly, we all stand to benefit from a tourism industry that is economically, environmentally, culturally and socially sustainable, and the Strategy continues to provide both a set of guidelines and a work programme of recommendations, to help us achieve that.

And I want to say, I have been pleased at how well stakeholders have responded to the Strategy's recommendations since it was released three years ago. Now, more than at any time in the recent past, key stakeholders from central government, local government and the private sector understand their role in the industry. Each is committed to working together to add value to the quality of the visitor experience.

There is no doubt that having a coherent Strategy has helped secure Government's increased and ongoing investment in the sector. Rolling out and actioning the recommendations of the Strategy was directly responsible for the establishment of the Ministry of Tourism, a bigger and better quality assurance programme in Qualmark a number of joint venture projects such as building the tourism toolkit with Lincoln University and Local Government New Zealand, and even our own television programme, Business Class - and I should use this opportunity to mention that the second series will be on air next month!

We also have a more highly visible and efficient Visitor Information Network, and at this point I should like to congratulate the Nelson City Council for its $3.2million investment in its new visitor information centre. Generally we have far greater engagement with local government, a more co-ordinated group of regional tourism organisations and a higher profile for cultural tourism - an area that directly affects Nelson.

Looking forward, the focus is now on continuing the momentum in implementation of the Strategy and ensuring greater co-ordination between parties on key strategic initiatives. It's also about keeping you informed of the work that has been undertaken. Lets be clear - the Strategy is every bit as relevant now as it was three years ago.

I've mentioned that one of the direct outcomes has been greater engagement with local government. The Tourism Strategy highlighted the crucial role that local government plays in the tourism industry and there has been a strong and determined response by Local Government New Zealand to the recommendations directed towards its stakeholders.

Without local government support the sector cannot reach its potential - local government are after all, the providers of the infrastructure and services that our visitors rely on to move around the country. And they provide funding to the all important regional tourism organisations that market regions as visitor destinations.

I'm aware that the discussions from this conference will feed into a strategic planning process for tourism in Nelson-Tasman. Ongoing support from local government will undoubtedly be crucial to your ability to translate ideas into effective strategies to promote your region over the next ten years.

The role that both local government and RTOs play in the tourism industry is vital to the development of the sector. In addition to their role in promoting their region as a visitor destination, RTOs play a strong leadership role within the industry and act as a bridge between tourism operators, national tourism bodies and government.

You do have an advantage over many other regions in that there are clearly some very strong partnerships already well established. I encourage local government and the tourism sector in this region, to continue to develop these and to identify further opportunities to work together. I talked earlier of the importance of ensuring that the qualities that make New Zealand special are not compromised as we continue to develop our industry.

While there is every reason to be positive about the growth in visitor arrivals, encouraging more visitors in peak season, places greater pressure on our natural, built, cultural and social environment. Increasing visitor numbers is still important, but it is just as important to encourage those visitors to visit at different times of the year, to stay longer, to spend more and to experience a wider range of products, and that is certainly one of our key objectives nationally.

We also have to continue to diversify product, and build on regional strengths and points of difference. In this respect, cultural tourism is an area that I believe New Zealand has unlimited potential. Where we used to see and sell ourselves primarily as a scenic destination, we have come to recognise that, as spectacular as the scenery is, promoting ourselves on scenery alone undersells the depth and variety of experiences New Zealand really has to offer.

Nelson-Tasman, of course, has been prominent among those who have paved the way in promoting this shift in thinking. This region is an excellent example, where foresight by the RTO has expanded visitor perceptions of the region from its traditional positioning as a summer beach holiday spot to a cultural tourism destination. You are undoubtedly a leader in the area of cultural tourism, setting high standards for others.

I recognised this when I, along with my colleague the Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, selected Nelson as one of five regions to participate in a cultural tourism development programme to enhance the quality of the cultural tourism product they have and to increase visitor demand for that product. I'm aware that work to implement the cultural tourism plan that has been developed by the region is well underway and I look forward to the outcomes of that work.

Its true the region has been thrown a curve ball with the recent announcement by the World of Wearable Arts Trust that the show will be staged in Wellington from 2005. I've heard that Paul Matheson describe the situation as a bit like your oldest child leaving home to go on it's 'Big OE'. I've also heard it described as a bit like your wife running off with your best friend!

Wellington does have a strong and co-operative relationship with Nelson, and I believe the move provides opportunities for the two regions to continue to work together in new and exciting ways.

WOW is an excellent example of New Zealand's capabilities of creativity and innovation in the tourism arena. It has done much to add a new dimension to the way New Zealand is perceived by visitors. I certainly witnessed that recently in the reaction of senior Australian business and media representatives attending our 100% Pure New Zealand showcase in Sydney. The challenge for Nelson, is to consider how best to fill the void that the Wearable Arts Awards leaves as from next year.

The discussions during this conference will start the process for resolving that, and many other questions, and I commend such a swift, co-ordinated and focussed response. It has been proven time and time again that the tourism industry must continue to insure itself against future short-term shocks by developing into a robust, diversified industry - something that Nelson-Tasman is already doing and doing well.

And so, it's only fitting that Nelson has a high quality Visitor Information Centre that provides a suitable welcome to visitors, both domestic and international. It is consistent with how we in New Zealand portray ourselves as an innovative, sophisticated destination; it helps to promote the cultural aspects of the region and provides for a hospitable welcome, in the spirit of manaakitanga (hospitality) which is core to our Tourism Strategy.

Of course the success of a project such as this is dependent on those who make it happen. I would like to commend, Paul Davis, who was instrumental in developing the case for this particular grant. I would also like to commend Paul and his staff for the work that has been done in this project to ensure that visitors enjoy a high quality, friendly and informative welcome to the region.

On that note, it gives me great pleasure to present a cheque to Paul Dalzell, chair of Latitude Nelson, for $99,000 with my congratulations and very best wishes for your future success and that of the new i-SITE Visitor Information Centre.

I wish you the best for a successful conference and your deliberations over the next two days.

Thank you.

ENDS

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