The Tourism Industry Association has accused the Government of undervaluing New Zealand’s “bedrock” export industry with a lowly minister and a lack of investment and kudos.
The top priority in the organisation’s election manifesto was a swipe at Tourism Minister Damien O’Connor’s 37th ranking in the Labour Party list. It said the industry would prefer the tourism portfolio to be handled by the prime minister.
Chief executive Tim Cossar said the manifesto reflected a feeling among the tourism industry that it was ignored by the Government and wanted the incoming government to “raise the bar and lift their game”.
The manifesto detailed a hefty wishlist including a Cabinet-level tourism workforce, an extra $30 million a year in public funding, a $200-$300 million national conference centre and more work on industry training and environmental protection.
Tourism accounted for nearly 20 percent of the country’s export earnings, but there was little concern from the Government’s top table that New Zealand was losing market share on the international front, Mr Cossar said.
“Is that acceptable for New Zealand’s largest export industry? If we were losing share in the dairy or wine industry, people would be concerned.”
The call for more senior ministerial representation was not a criticism of Mr O’Connor’s performance, but rather frustration that he was not in the upper echelon of government.
Mr O’Connor said the manifesto was a “reasonable” document, but he defended the Government’s commitment to the industry.
Mr Cossar added that massive investment in Auckland’s conference and cruise ship facilities was needed in a hurry.
Eighty per cent of cruise ships, a booming tourism market worth $500 million a year, docked in Auckland and were confronted with “second-rate Portaloos”, he said. “That’s not our brand.”