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Time to make lemonade?

8 July 2021

Covid 19 has dealt New Zealand a pretty heavy blow.

Although we've done a lot better than most other countries in terms of deaths and disruption, CV19 has still knocked our economy around quite a bit and gutted one of our largest industries -- tourism.

Right now the tourism industry is lobbying government to loosen the ropes and allow overseas visitors to return, the result of which was the recent lockdown in Wellington after some Aussies infected with CV19 entered the country and mingled a bit.

I've already written a column on the folly that is creating a travel bubble with any country right now while our levels of vaccination are so low.

However, maybe it's time to step back and plan for a different future. Let's see if we can turn the lemon that is CV19 into a delicious, tasty beverage called lemonade.

One of the big problems we face as a nation is the harm that the tourism industry does to both this country and the planet as a whole.

According to some quick research (thanks Google), the average visitor to New Zealand arrives by air and in doing so, they contribute about 5.5 tonnes of CO2 to the environment during that flight.

In 2018 figures indicated that commercial aviation contributes about 5 percent to the world's total climate-change problem.

Every tourist arriving on our shores by air is taking their toll on the sustainability of our planet as a whole. Should we be proud of this?

Looking at things this way it becomes clear that NZ's two largest industries (pre-CV19) are both huge contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and that runs quite contrary to Tourism NZ's claims of "Clean and Green". Perhaps it's time to tidy up our act?

What I propose would be to significantly reduce the volume of tourists without a proportionate reduction in the revenues the industry generates.

What? How can we get a quart out of a pint pot?

Simple... let's kick the backpackers and economy-class tourists to the curb and focus instead on the cream of the crop.

One of the realities of the world is that "premium" products and services will always sell well, even in a depressed econonomic climate. Expensive cars, expensive wines, expensive real-estate still sell well even when we're in the middle of the harshest downturn. The fact is that tough times generally mean that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer so in fact, those with money actually end up with more of the stuff while the rest of us cut costs and trim our budgets just to survive on the basics.

With this in mind I think we should focus on turning New Zealand into a premium destination that caters for those with extremely large wallets that are prepared to pay for the best.

The upsides to this are many.

Firstly, it means that the tourism industry as a whole becomes more profitable and can pay its workers a better wage. Right now many jobs in the tourism industry are amongst the worst paid in the country so hiking wages there would be a welcome relief to many.

Secondly, with lower numbers of tourists, the effects on the environment, both locally and globall, would be reduced. Fewer rental cars spitting CO2 into the air, fewer air-miles created by arrivals, etc.

Thirdly, by turning NZ into a premium tourist destination, affordable by only a few, we actually create a greater incentive for the well-off tourists to actually come here. Being able to say "I went to NZ this year" would become a badge of honour and a measure of one's success in the world.

What's more, we could re-start the tourism industry tomorrow if this decision was made now.

MIQ would not be some seedy two-star hotel room in an urban high-rise but a lakeside retreat with fine wine and caviar -- because it would cost an arm and a leg.

Let the rich and well heeled spend their 14 days isolated from the rest of the population but surrounded by the rich splendour of our finest landscapes and best natural beauty. Their isolation would be just another enjoyable part of their holiday experience. Indeed, being able to holiday in a country that has no community-spread of CV19 is a feature that many of the richest people would likely pay an enormous premium to enjoy right now.

Remember that people already pay thousands of dollars a night to stay in other "premium" destinations so why not make NZ one of those and reduce the number of tourists by an order of magnitude or whilst saving many of the jobs currently under threat?

Even once CV19 has been brought under control (as much as we can) then keeping NZ as a "premium" destination will continue to provide all those environmental and economic benefits well into the future.

What say you?

Lemonade anyone?

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