Time for tech to follow the tourism track
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 and deliver billions of dollars to the regions.
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 that works for all participants. 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.
This needs to recognise that while the big private-sector firms are important, arguably it’s the small to medium-sized tech firms that are seeing the most growth, particularly the software-asa-service (SaaS) ones.
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 if they were Steve Jobs or Tim BernersLee – could 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 across Europe, technology companies 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.
New Zealand as oil painting – we’ve got the scenery, and now the infrastructure is catching up, and, in the case of Tekapo’s automated toilets, contributing to the costs of tourism.