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'Have we simply lost our connection?': DQ boss Paul Abbot

We are living in a time when the tourism landscape has been markedly changed.

Tourism operators are holding out hope sometime soon they will welcome back both domestic and international visitors, and they are doing an admirable job of adapting and
keeping their businesses afloat.

With this uncertain and volatile environment comes comments like tourism is ‘‘broken’’, ‘‘limit numbers’’, ‘‘high-value visitors only’’ and ‘‘differential pricing’’.

All with the aim of describing a new direction the tourism industry needs to take, but not
entirely helpful comments for operators to hear during a time when they’re struggling.

So I ask you, is tourism really broken?

Or have we simply lost our connection with the communities and people who are at the core of these tourism products?

Tourism is an industry which has communication at its heart.

Perhaps we have failed in the two-way communication with our local communities to sell the full experience of ‘Queenstown’ and provide the bigger picture of tourism?

Within every industry, there is an evolution of change at key moments in history, or with changing customer preferences or demands.

Businesses adapt to these changes to remain relevant and valued by their customers, and to continue to flourish.

This applies for both businesses directly in the industry and those businesses who support that industry.

Covid-19 is the time for tourism’s evolutionary change.

In my view, though, these changes aren’t about visitation numbers.

Pre-Covid, the metric of success was heavily weighted towards how many visitors.

How much they spent.

Where they came from.

Equally important, though, but often ignored, was the value created through visitation, like improvements in amenities and a growth in local services and suppliers.

I don’t think these benefits would have been possible if our community existed in isolation from tourism.

For a Queenstown resident, the comparison with similar-sized communities, such as Whakatane, Feilding and Richmond, should be an indicator tourism also brings choice in shopping, dining, domestic and international connectivity, and recreational options.

If, as we all suspect, the tourism market rebounds, it won’t be about restricting or penalising visitors who choose to spend their leisure time here.

It must be more about managing the flows of people.

Ensuring we mitigate the impact of the visitor streams, demonstrate better communication, and seek feedback from those residents in the region.

There are certainly areas that need to change.

In general, they are linked back to mitigating the impact of visitors and helping set the
foundation for future generations to experience what we’re lucky to be experiencing now.

Many of our operators are already on that journey.

Once again, part of the tourism challenge is to ensure we communicate that progress is already happening, rather than have people assume that we must start from Ground Zero and complete a 90 degree change in direction.

We also have to look at those employed within the tourism sector.

There is work to be done to change the perception of working in tourism to make it an attractive and rewarding choice for those looking at short- or long-term careers.

Another communication task, then, to tell of the value these roles provide in terms of transferable skills, developing passionate and committed ambassadors, and having this value recognised and rewarded.

At the end of the day, we are all visitors, whether to this region or to others on our travels.

The values and actions we seek to impose on our visitors need to also be lived by and exhibited by us, too, if we are serious about effecting change.

So, I don’t think tourism is broken, or a failed model that needs to be put down.

It needs to be supported during these trying times and given the opportunity to catch its breath, re-equip itself with a few new skills and take off again to help provide people with
lifelong memories of some wonderful times.

Paul Abbot’s Destination Queenstown’s new CEO