Damien O'Connor says Covid-19 has taught tourism industry 'not to be so cocky'

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor says Covid-19 has taught the tourism industry not to be so cocky after a slump in international tourism saw it lose its spot as the top export earner to the dairy industry.
We have just gone through an amazing 12-month period in our country where we have learnt a lot about ourselves, as people, as a community and as sectors and industries, OConnor told an audience of agricultural leaders and politicians at Central Districts Field Days in Feilding on Friday.

The tourism industry learnt not to be so cocky, that's not to go around saying how great they are and how big they are, cause it can change, said OConnor, who has previously held the role of tourism minister.

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The dairy and tourism industries have vied for the spot as the top export earner over the years, with the dairy industry overtaking tourism in the year to the end of March 2020 with export earnings of $16.2 billion to tourisms $15.9b. Tourism had been in the top position since June 2015.

The industry is very proud of its battle and ultimately its lead over dairy as the single biggest export earner of our country, and I guess that's a healthy competition, O'Connor said after his speech.

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Fonterra's profits soared by 43 per cent in the six months to January.

Tourism businesses in hotspots like Queenstown would probably agree with his view that they had become cocky, he said.

They were going really well, and it was going gangbusters down there, he said. But the sad reality over the last 12 months has been a big blow to them and to the whole country.

Export sectors had to realise that they faced risks and needed to be humble, he said.

While we had warning signals through Sars of the possibility of pandemics and interruptions to international travel, it probably wasn't built into their business models, O'Connor said. He wasn't blaming the tourism industry, he said.

ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff
The tourism industry learnt not to be so cocky, that's not to go around saying how great they are and how big they are, cause it can change, Damien OConnor says.

For tourism, it's a tough time now, they have got to build a new model of resilience that enables them to deal with what might be more pandemics like this and interruptions of the flow of international visitors.

The Government wanted the industry to build back in a more sustainable way and deliver value for New Zealand, its visitors and themselves, he said. That meant having funds set aside for a rainy day and developing a model that delivers to both domestic and international tourists.

That resilience is actually looking after Kiwis, appreciating what they look for in a tourism experience, and delivering part of that as well, O'Connor said.

I think it has been easy for some businesses to set up, have busloads come through their doors, clip the ticket, deliver a good product, but not be aware of the underlying dangers of when that ceases, and that's what we are trying to work our way through at the moment.

ANDY JACKSON/Stuff
The dairy industry has overtaking tourism in the year to the end of March with export earnings of $16.2 billion to tourisms $15.9b.

National's agriculture spokesman David Bennett, who was at the event, said OConnors comments about the tourism industry were disgusting.

The borders are closed through Government policy which they have no control over, Bennett said.

They have been asking for a bubble with Australia for months and the Government hasn't acted, and then he blames the sector for getting cocky, it's disgusting, it shows he has no regard for what business is like.

The farming industry could similarly be impacted by a biosecurity issue which impacted its work, he said.

Would he then say that we were all too cocky, and we would have to take the hit?

Bennett rejected the suggestion that the tourism industry had been complacent, saying they were operating on the basis that the domestic and international market was there, but were hurt when the Government closed the border.

To then abuse that sector by calling them cocky I think is terrible when they are just business people that have tried their very best in terrible circumstances and are fundamentally important to our economy, he said.

If Government can't help them, Government should at least understand and say the right things to them to at least indicate compassion and understanding instead of abusing them.

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