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NZ tourism sector needs international visitors to ‘thrive’

Before Covid-19, tourism was New Zealand’s largest export, generating $41 billion for the New Zealand economy in 2019 alone. When the virus arrived and New Zealand shut down, that dropped to $26 billion by 2021.It was domestic tourism that saved the industry from complete collapse, but local tourism operators say in order to thrive rather than survive, they need the international tourists to come back.

Mike Grogan, who owns Cathedral Cove Kayak Tours in Hahei, says he lost 80% of his customers when the border shut

“To lose those was a really big hit, but that being said, Kiwis were huge for us - we’ve got the philosophy where we say ‘hey, half a loaf of bread is better than no bread at all.’”

“That was helpful, but we need our international friends back.”

On Wednesday, Tourism New Zealand launched its new ad campaign to lure international tourists back to New Zealand. While they’re trying to attract “high quality” international tourists, (people who will stay a long time and spend lots of money), the pandemic taught the sector that the domestic tourist market is vital for its survival.


“I think one of the learnings is the importance of domestic visitors for tourism.” Tourism New Zealand CEO Rene De Monchy said.

“The resilience of the sector will be built on New Zealanders getting out and about.”

Domestic tourists acted as the backbone of the industry during the pandemic, but now local operators are competing with the rest of the world for their dollars.

Brent Thomas from House of Travel says bookings for the summer show that Kiwis are keen to leave the nest, wanting to explore the world after being cooped up in New Zealand.

“They want to connect with loved ones, have adventures, and just get out after such a long period of being locked down.”

On top of many New Zealanders heading overseas this summer, the international travellers may not flood back to our corner of the world either.

Borders have been open to all countries since the end of July, with over 8000 people entering so far this August