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Seeing the impact of COVID-19 on New Zealand's Tourism

By Kaylin Chapman, Bachelor of Commerce

Temple Basin Walk, Arthurs Pass New Zealand – June 2021

In such a short span of time, COVID-19 has changed the world as we know it, disrupting the usual patterns and influences of globalisation in many countries and making international travel almost impossible. In this piece, I want to address one of the most severely impacted industries - tourism - and in one country that truly relies on it - New Zealand.

When COVID-19 stopped international travel, it was difficult for many people, myself included. Being a keen traveller with free time, to say I was disappointed would be putting it lightly. When the travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia opened up, I couldn’t book my tickets fast enough. Right as the term finished, I hopped on my plane to New Zealand, knowing that I not only still had exams to do, but that I would have to face the cold winter of the North and South Islands with nothing but a simple campervan protecting me from the elements.

I’d heard stories of New Zealand from both family and friends, and all of them had 2 things in common, how beautiful the country was and how many tourists there were. This honestly worried me as I hadn’t booked any accommodation and although I had the campervan, it is illegal to park on the side of the road to sleep. So, I would need to book either Holiday Parks or National Park camping areas each night.

Little did I know that I didn’t need to be worried at all about finding available accommodation. Every location was either completely empty or had very few campers! This came as a shock after having been warned so thoroughly, but with the travel bubble in place, NZ still wasn’t bringing in even a tenth of its previous tourist numbers.

To put this into perspective, in 2019 the New Zealand tourism industry generated $40.9 billion! That’s over 10% of their total GDP, with 14.4% of all people in NZ working in Tourism - that’s around 400,000 jobs. Try to imagine the impact this would have on the economy and the people; I know I couldn’t picture it until I saw it in person. Between February 2020 and February of 2021 NZ had experienced a 94.2% drop in international visitor arrivals (Stats NZ 2021). It was heartbreaking seeing so many privately owned businesses and tour companies struggling for money with the lack of business.

Hobbiton, Matamata New Zealand – July 2021

One story really stuck with me. I met Peter when visiting Hobbiton and he was the friendliest, most passionate and energetic tour guide I’d ever met. He took a small group of New Zealand tourists and myself around Hobbiton to show us the beautiful set, but I couldn’t help but notice how empty it felt. During some downtime towards the end of the tour, I mentioned to him what I’d observed, he replied saying that before COVID-19, there would have been 10 other tours operating at the same time, running only 10-15min apart. We had been there almost 2 hours and were still the only tour. I proceeded to learn about how more than 85% of the workforce had been let go due to the decline and how he too now only came in once a week to help out. He mentioned how his family was okay but struggling to stay afloat and how he was luckier than most, being able to work at all.

This was just one of many stories I heard while traveling throughout the country, although it was hard to see so many people being affected, there was a silver lining - hearing about some people who had taken the opportunity to find their true passion. One lady had started doing pottery and selling her pots, another found they really enjoyed photography and had taken that up professionally.

I spent 61 days in NZ and travelled to over 300 different locations. I had the pleasure of meeting many different types of people, and one of my biggest highlights was seeing how resilient and adaptable the people of NZ were when faced with tough times.

COVID-19 has and will probably forever change the tourism industry and I hope my entry has made you look a little differently at NZ. I hope you too take the opportunity to travel to NZ when the borders open up again, to support even a few of the fantastic businesses and people that live there.


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