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Budget 2021 Needs To Deliver For SME Tourism Operators

If a more authentic New Zealand experience and sustainable tourism model is to be realised, Budget 2021 needs to ensure small to medium sized tourism operators will still be around when the borders reopen, says a leading Kiwi tourism entrepreneur.

Veronika Vermeulen, owner of Aroha New Zealand Tours

“The country’s $40 billion tourism industry is grateful for the Government’s support. We appreciate its renewed focus on tourism’s recovery and its desire to transition to a more sustainable footing. However, many of the smaller, family-owned businesses now urgently need operational support if they are to actually survive into 2022 and beyond,” says Veronika Vermeulen, owner of Aroha New Zealand Tours.

Small businesses are the backbone of New Zealand and, she says, the same applies to tourism. Hundreds of guides, for example, connect overseas visitors with New Zealand’s culture and landscapes as key ambassadors. Many, however, have been forced into other work with no clear pathway back to tourism meaning a big loss of experience and knowledge.

“Over the past decade many small operators have invested heavily to become eco-friendly and sustainable, offering low-impact small group activities. They’ve worked hard to engage with local communities and Maori and sensitively showcase our culture. Yet the reality is large scale operators set up for mass tourism will be best placed in the recovery, so achieving sector transformation will be difficult,” says Ms Vermeulen.

She says the Tourism Minister’s desire to attract ‘high-value’ visitors is well supported across the sector. There are number of potential smaller grants available for the likes of expert planning advice. What’s more, the Government has done well to cushion Inbound Tour Operators (IPOs) and key strategic tourism assets. It has also lent some solid broad-brush support for councils and wider tourism communities.

“However, I’d now like to see more targeted support for proven smaller operators showcasing authentic experiences. They are the ones who will make New Zealand a more attractive proposition for high-value visitors in the future. All we’re asking for is a more balanced approach to funding and for our SME operators to be a given level playing field and a fair go – nothing more,” she says.

Her comments follow Minister of Tourism Stuart Nash announcing additional funding in a recent speech to the industry’s annual TRENZ conference, including 26 ITOs now able to convert a total of $14 million into grants. MBIE describes ITOs as promoting and selling New Zealand travel packages to offshore buyers, providing a key link between overseas wholesalers and travel sellers.

Many of New Zealand’s larger well-known tourism operators have also received Government support through the Government’s Strategic Tourism Asset Protection Programme, with their grants and loans now totalling over $157 million.

Last year the Tourism Futures Taskforce was tasked with reimagining the sector and reported back at the end of March. Providing a roadmap forward, it noted that Covid-19 has ‘provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to overhaul the system which is fundamental to transform the visitor economy’.

“SME operators are now hopeful that more of the taskforce’s ‘We Are Aotearoa’ report comes to life on Budget Day.

“The Tourism Minister has done well with his portfolio over the past six months. Given he’s also Minister for Small Business, we now ask for a greater focus on sustaining important smaller operators within the tourism sector. Ultimately they’re key to his tourism vision being delivered,” says Veronika Vermeulen.

Veronika Vermeulen is owner of Aroha New Zealand Tours and a travel industry expert. She has been welcoming high-value, luxury foreign travellers to New Zealand for over 20 years.

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