Time for tech­nol­ogy to fol­low the tourism track

The Dominion Post - - Business - Opin­ion Mike O’Don­nell

Iwas lucky enough to ride the Hakataramea Track a cou­ple of weeks ago. An al­ter­na­tive but more di­rect route from Fair­lie to Kurow, it’s 100 kilo­me­tres of gob­s­mack­ing Macken­zie Basin hill coun­try with enough river cross­ings and shin­gle washouts to keep me fo­cused on keep­ing my 650 Dakar mo­tor­cy­cle up­right.

Af­ter­wards I gassed up in Tekapo and ad­mired the new sta­teof-the-art au­to­mated toi­lets with ma­jes­tic meri­nos stand­ing guard.

The dap­per dun­nies were opened a year ago, and the $1 en­try goes to­wards the iconic Church of the Good Shep­herd, a sim­ple ex­am­ple of tourism be­ing made to give back to the com­mu­nity.

As you’ve prob­a­bly no­ticed, tourism is go­ing gang­busters at the mo­ment. In­ter­na­tional vis­i­tor ar­rivals have grown by 40 per cent in the last five years. More than 3.8 mil­lion vis­i­tors are now ar­riv­ing an­nu­ally, mak­ing tourism our big­gest ex­port dol­lar earner. This is fore­cast to grow to

5.1 mil­lion by 2024.

It’s no sur­prise that our tourism in­fra­struc­ture wasn’t set up to make the most of these op­por­tu­ni­ties. Many of the pol­icy set­tings and re­sourc­ing ar­range­ments were made when we were barely see­ing 2 mil­lion vis­i­tors a year.

Un­der the new Gov­ern­ment, the past 12 months has seen more up­dat­ing of this in­fra­struc­ture than the pre­vi­ous 12 years.

The Tourism In­fra­struc­ture Fund has just an­nounced its sec­ond tranche of fund­ing for the likes of carparks, camp­ing and sew­er­age – tak­ing the to­tal in­vest­ment to al­most $50 mil­lion.

At the same time, the Pro­vin­cial Growth Fund has al­lo­cated a solid chunk of cash to sup­port­ing tourism in the re­gions.

Mean­while, ear­lier this year, the Re­spon­si­ble Camp­ing Work­ing Group was es­tab­lished to im­prove the free­dom camp­ing sys­tem, mak­ing $8.5m avail­able for im­me­di­ate ac­tions.

Two weeks ago the ‘‘Ti­aki – Care for New Zealand’’ ini­tia­tive was launched by seven of the largest tourism in­dus­try play­ers to en­cour­age in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic trav­ellers to act as guardians of this coun­try.

Then, last week, the Gov­ern­ment re­leased its draft Aotearoa-New Zealand Tourism Strat­egy for con­sul­ta­tion.

The doc­u­ment lays out a plan for en­rich­ing New Zealand through sus­tain­able tourism growth.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, the cover of the doc­u­ment fea­tures two lo­gos – those of the Min­istry of Busi­ness, In­no­va­tion and Em­ploy­ment (MBIE) and the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion. These two agen­cies have not al­ways been to­tally aligned, but are now walk­ing in lock­step on aligned out­comes.

Mean­while, next year the In­ter­na­tional Vis­i­tor Con­ser­va­tion and Tourism Levy gets rolled out, and will col­lect about $80m an­nu­ally, which will be split 50:50 be­tween tourism in­fra­struc­ture and con­ser­va­tion ac­tiv­ity.

Stand­ing back, the mo­men­tum is pal­pa­ble. Hav­ing some in­volve­ment in the in­dus­try at a pe­riph­ery I think there are three things un­der­ly­ing the sea change, be­yond a cou­ple of min­is­ters who are hun­gry to ex­e­cute.

First, an in­clu­sive ap­proach that sees gov­ern­ment agen­cies work­ing to­gether and with the in­dus­try, rather than in si­los.

Sec­ond, a com­mon un­der­stand­ing that there is no sin­gle panacea for sus­tain­able growth. Rather it’s about an ecosys­tem of dis­crete projects ex­e­cuted tightly, which to­gether make the dif­fer­ence.

Lastly, there’s a tail­wind of about 8 per cent an­nual growth in num­bers and spend that we’d be mugs not to take ad­van­tage of.

As a per­son with gov­er­nance ex­pe­ri­ence in both of the ‘‘T’’ sec­tors – tourism and tech­nol­ogy – I can’t help but think there are a few learn­ings here. Learn­ings that might help us move tech­nol­ogy for­ward from be­ing the third­largest ex­port-earner to the sec­ond. Learn­ings that might help us move for­ward from the four-year tragedy as­so­ci­ated with the gov­ern­ment chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer (CTO) role and a na­tional dig­i­tal strat­egy.

Start­ing with the in­clu­sive ap­proach and get­ting agen­cies to move in lock­step, this could see the likes of the Depart­ment of In­ter­nal Af­fairs, MBIE, New Zealand Trade & En­ter­prise, and Cal­laghan In­no­va­tion de­vel­op­ing a com­mon agenda, and then work­ing with the in­dus­try.

Mov­ing away from the idea of a tech panacea to a raft of aligned but dis­crete projects is a key one. No gov­ern­ment CTO – not even a Steve Jobs or Tim Bern­ers-Lee – can de­liver our dig­i­tal fu­ture. As Voltaire noted, the per­fect is the en­emy of the good.

Mean­while, in terms of tail­wind, we’ve got it. In the United States and Europe, tech firms now make up the ma­jor­ity of the five largest listed com­pa­nies.

Im­por­tantly it’s not all about the big cities. As Tourism Min­is­ter Kelvin Davis launched the draft strat­egy last week he made clear his em­pha­sis on en­sur­ing re­gions ben­e­fit from tourism growth.

When it comes to tech­nol­ogy, dig­i­tal com­pa­nies in Ti­maru and Te Awa­mutu need to ben­e­fit as much as those in Pon­sonby and Cuba St. Oth­er­wise it could be money down the dunny, rather than money from the dunny as Tekapo has shown is pos­si­ble.

Mike ‘‘MOD’’ O’Don­nell is a pro­fes­sional direc­tor and ad­viser. His Twit­ter han­dle is @mod­sta and he’s pretty keen on the Hakataramea. NB – while this col­umn is MOD’s per­sonal opin­ion, for dis­clo­sure pur­poses it’s noted that he is a direc­tor of Tourism New Zealand and RAL, and a range of tech com­pa­nies.

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