In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, few industries have fallen as far and as fast as tourism. The coronavirus is crippling entire industries, but the private jet business is booming in New Zealand. Individuals are paying thousands of dollars to evacuate and avoid areas affected by the coronavirus.
Luxury travel operators are allowing customers to postpone their vacations for up to a year — but many aren’t offering complete refunds. That said, the vast majority of premium travelers have been much more inclined to postpone their travel dates and not cancel outright. Most prefer to find an alternative time later in the year or in 2021. With tourism and exports a major part of the economy, New Zealand will face some economic struggles in the near term, but this doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.
A fast and collective response to coronavirus pandemic
Under the headline, “New Zealand isn’t just flattening the curve. It’s squashing it”, Post journalist and Kiwi Anna Fifield have outlined the political, social and health measures taken by the Government over the past month. The strict lockdown procedures and rapid response to the virus meant New Zealand was better placed than most to deal with whatever was to come, the research found.
The Washington Post piece reports on the “collective purpose” of New Zealand, as it tackles the pandemic – from the halls of power. Where the National (opposing government party) has said it won’t be campaigning on the Government’s response. A leading epidemiologist told MPs on the Epidemic Response Committee that New Zealand was in a brilliant position and the only western country to eliminate the virus. New Zealand has been hailed as a coronavirus safe haven after an international research group ranks it the third-safest country in the world.
As an island nation, it is easier to control our borders, the main source of infections. Compared to other countries, the response in New Zealand has been bold and decisive. The measures are paying off, as some epidemiologists see it as having the potential to be one of few “normal” nations left, according to a Guardian report. BBC travel also named New Zealand one of the 5 countries with the most resilient economies.
Strong domestic travel market
New Zealand’s largest export industry has taken a massive hit from the COVID-19 crisis, but some high-end tourism companies are now looking at a market closer to home in order to keep the doors open. Of the $112 million a day, more than half of that, $65 million, is domestic tourism. The Prime Minister has said stricter border measures are likely to be in place well into next year until a vaccine arrives.
Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts said New Zealanders’ tourism spend was different from that of many overseas visitors, but Kiwis were the backbone of the industry. “If we can restore that part of the visitor economy; then we can get New Zealanders out seeing their own country. That will keep thousands of businesses going and will keep tens of thousands of New Zealanders in jobs.” The local market Luxury lodges and retreats were planning to throw out the welcome packages to more New Zealanders once able to venture out again, and with the means to take a holiday.
After lockdown, we will have the chance to reposition our tourism industry and work with the regions to create unique travel experiences. Most of the high-end boutique stays across New Zealand will develop packages that focus on the new local market. Things like ‘stay three and pay two’ is a classic one where you can stay for three nights but pay for two. Locals will have a once in a lifetime chance to explore New Zealand without foreign tourists. New Zealanders will be able to escape, have some fresh local food and stay somewhere unique.
Surrounded by strong neighbors, open borders to some close nations earlier
Australia, our trans-Tasman relations (“relations across the Tasman Sea”) are extremely close and important. Both, almost unique among anglophone countries, have so far been successful in largely suppressing the spread of COVID-19 within their countries. Over 800,000 New Zealanders live in Australia and 60,000 Australians are living in New Zealand. Australia made up New Zealand’s biggest pool of overseas visitors in the last few years. For this reason, there will be an early push to open border between the two counties first.
China, the 2nd largest travel group to NZ prior to Coronavirus also offers a glimmer of hope. China, where the pandemic began, offers a glimpse into the future. Now that the pandemic is reportedly under control there and restrictions are being lifted, there are early signs of recovery.
Taiwan, though the island state is only 81 miles from mainland China, Taiwan has managed to stem what could have been an even bigger coronavirus crisis. Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea with strong visitor numbers to our country will hopefully soon be able to travel again. These are all good indicators that these counties will open traveling routes the earliest.
Trust in our government and democracy
We’re rated in international surveys as one of the world’s most peaceful, least corrupt countries and New Zealand is one of the world’s most stable democracies.
Fifield, the newspaper’s Beijing bureau chief who was back in New Zealand for a time, reported a “group of influential New Zealanders” had urged Ardern to move to alert level 4 soon after the Government announced the new alert system.” We were hugely worried about what was happening in Italy and Spain,” one of them, Warehouse founder Stephen Tindall (NZ businessman), said.” If we didn’t shut down quickly enough, the pain was going to go on for a very long time,” he told Fifield.
“It’s inevitable that we will have to shut down anyway, so we would rather it be sharp and short.” Ardern’s deft and quietly revolutionary management of these crises, especially the Christchurch shootings, got noticed around the globe. Her response to the events of the past 12 months has propelled her to the kind of global prominence none of her predecessors enjoyed while in office. Not surprisingly, she has been named one of the most powerful women internationally, mentioned in connection with a Nobel Peace Prize and profiled in glossy media around the world.
Many small boutique astays and operations have flexibility
While the near-term outlook is certainly negative, we do not anticipate any long-term changes to the volume and spending of the overseas travelers, particularly among the most affluent ones.
What may change, in the short to medium term, is a shift in destination selection. New Zealand is perfectly set with its many small boutique stays and remote lodges, that can cater for isolation away from crowded areas. Our diversity of nature, remote and unique countryside will provide the feel of freedom and safety. Many of our small stays can offer complete isolation from other travelers.
These trends had already evolved before the pandemic, as more people traveled and wanted to experience where they go in a way that feels authentic and ethical. These can range from visiting attractions that are off the beaten track, to interacting with communities and being immersed in the local culture.
The country will open again with a summer season
Travel is a huge part of our economy and our country was hard hit. But with quieter winter months ahead of us, we are less affected than many nations going into their summertime. For our boutique stays and the Luxury Lodges of New Zealand, annual winter closures had come early.
With the main travel season just finishing, New Zealand will be having summer 2021 when the world comes out of isolation. That said, we believe well-heeled travelers will be the first to return when borders open. We know there have been inquiries about getting private jets into New Zealand even now because people see it as a safe place to be.
Gone are the two weeks in a year of a package holiday along with the masses, today’s travelers have become more discerning; and therefore, we may see the luxury travel sector figures show the fastest recovery. In general, it also will fuel a rise in social responsibility and community give-back programs by luxury hotels as well as more experiential-based rather than bling-based travel, a trend that over the last decade has become the norm across all travel sectors, not just luxury.
What that will look like and whether we, as a result of this crisis, will again see a fundamental shift in priorities and travel trends is anyone’s guess at this point.
There is an overall interest in all of us to link, combine, and leave a positive impact. By being an island nation and insulated, we will have time to re-think where we want to go next. Long before the crisis, we had talked about the impact of mass tourism on our environment, and this gives us time to weigh up what’s important to us and for our future.
Veronika Vermeulen is Director of Aroha New Zealand Tours Ltd. Aroha New Zealand Tours Ltd. has been offering 100% tailored journeys and private guided luxury experiences in New Zealand since 2000.