No end in sight prompts tourism operators to consider changing industries

By Jessica Tyson

The impact of COVID-19 on New Zealand’s tourism industry has forced some tourism operators to consider changing industries, says the owner of Rotorua tourism operator MDA Experience, Taurua Mutu.

In Budget 2020 released last week, the government announced a $400mil recovery package for tourism operators, including $10mil for Māori tourism operators and a much-needed wage subsidy extension.

Mutu is grateful for the support but says the government is also telling tourism operators to be “realistic” and if they can’t survive on their own, then change industries.

“We don’t know when international tourism is going to start back. We hear a lot of calls saying we’ve got to get our borders open. It’s not just about opening New Zealand’s borders, we’ve got a whole world in lockdown at the moment. We’ve got a whole world that’s facing financial crisis. We’ve got a whole world that’s trying to deal with the pandemic,” say Mutu.

He says, with no end in sight and considering the $17bil shortfall experienced by New Zealand, the government has taken a really pragmatic approach.

“[The government has] said, ‘Okay get ready. You’ve got five months from when this started to a point where we may not fund you anymore. Figure out how to get there.’ And I think it’s pragmatic. I think it’s fair,” says Mutu.

MDA Experience specialises in white-water rafting, mountain biking and kayaking, as well as personalised luxury tours. Mutu says 75 per cent of MDA Experience's income has come from international visitors.

He spoke to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday to discuss how domestic tourism isn’t enough to survive.

“It will need more than that so we will need to hear that there’s a focus on opening up a trans-Tasman bubble but only when it’s safe because we don’t want to go back to Level 3 or 4 again. That’ll decimate us even more.”

Fortunately, as part of the $400mil Tourism Recovery Fund, the new Tourism Transition Programme will provide specialist advice and guidance to businesses to help them switch to the domestic market, prepare for the opening of the Tasman border, to hibernate, or to consider other options.

Mutu says he will get support from the wage subsidy extension for his business and staff for now, but hopes to not need further support.