The tourism and hospitality sector in Queenstown is increasingly seen from the outside as an entitled, sulking child demanding attention.
This distracts from the pain and hardship that many smaller owner-operators are now experiencing.
It’s now time for us to own our problems, and for the sector to face up to the new normals with new thinking and new solutions.
We need to regain the support of the nation and reverse the reputational damage we’ve suffered.
We need to acknowledge that decision-makers and government now have a model that puts social, cultural and environmental outcomes alongside the economic ones.
This inevitably leads to questions and scrutiny around the value and opportunity costs of what we do and why we do it — especially as tourism and hospitality are seen as low-value, low-productivity sectors that have a high environmental footprint.
This is part of a perfect storm to hit ‘Queenstown Inc’, along with the fallout from overtourism, the climate crisis and Covid.
It’s time to change.
Traditional tourism is, at best, a ‘zero sum game’, i.e. it produces winners and losers but hopefully the two balance out.
Regenerative tourism means tourism that improves our natural environment, protects what our community cherishes, and provides worthwhile employment.
This is a large step beyond ‘sustainability’, which implies a simple ‘do no harm’.
Regenerative tourism recognises businesses, humans (customers, employees, community) and the environment are inextricably linked, depend on each other and that a win-win-win outcome is not only desirable, but is essential.
And that brings a whole new bunch of players and strategies into the mix.
If we know we are leaving our place better than it was, we are following our hearts, not just our bottom lines.
Business now needs a shift in mindset to explicitly consider a series of soft issues found in the ‘ecosystem’ of its operations and areas of impact: community aspirations, community
values, use of natural resources, the political- and consumer-led winds of change and our position within interconnected living systems.
Business needs to be part of the community, as a first step to becoming valued by the community.
We should be heroes in the eyes of our local community, because we want them to have our backs, not be on our backs.
We probably don’t ask the question right now because we wouldn’t like the answer.
In the past we haven’t had to pay the true cost of resources such as labour, energy and waste disposal and as such haven’t really valued them.
In future we will have to increasingly account for and pay increasing costs due to our carbon emissions.
Businesses will be expected to produce carbon reduction plans.
Financiers will lead on this as they see high carbon businesses becoming a high lending risk.
Locally, QLDC will inevitably bring requirements for reduction plans and emission limits via its permissions and licences as a landowner.
The high-volume, low-value proposition is no longer relevant.
We have a shortage of customers and workers, and don’t forget we failed to manage the issues when we had large numbers of both.
If labour is a precious resource, we need to value it highly, use it sparingly, efficiently and position the tourism and hospitality sector to be an employer of choice.
What would that take, and how would it look?
And yes, that’s not just about the money.
How do show we value and support the people doing the unseen, unglamorous, unrecognised but essential work?
And, in a world of fewer customers, it’s vital to align with consumers who are increasingly influenced by how they perceive the impacts of businesses.
It’s a good time to review what’s worth doing, what’s not and what opportunities exist for collaboration.
We need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.
There are no rules in life that say things have to be fair.
Ask all the people who used to own or work at Blockbuster Video stores.
Sometimes, some things just don’t have a place in the world any more.
John Glover is a long-time owner-operator of tourism business Kinloch Wilderness Retreat