Local life will change foerever due to Covid-19 - maybe even improve?

by Peter Newport - Mar 15, 2020


Many of us will still be coming to terms with the massive effect that coronavirus (CV) or Covid-19 will have on our lives, our district and our income.

Thousands of people will lose their jobs and many businesses that were solid just two months ago will go bust. People will tragically lose their lives, but confidence is currently high that New Zealand is doing everything possible to reduce the local death toll to an absolute minimum.

Events like Warbirds Over Wanaka may be cancelled, our airport will slow down to levels seen years ago and tourism will never be the same – globally and locally.

The reason that tourism will never be the same is based on logic. Climate change, sustainability and concern for the environment are not just fads that will die away like some type of fashion or social media craze. Add to that that mass tourism has been, and always will be, a low pay, extractive industry and you start to get the picture. There are better ways for an economy to improve. Growth does not have to be the same as improvement – quality is generally better than quantity in almost every business and walk of life.

Does having over 20,000 aircraft in the sky, all day and every day make any sense?

Often major change starts with one small but significant tipping point. In the case of mass tourism, it may not have been the outbreak in China of Covid-19, but the management failures at Boeing that resulted in the deaths of 346 people in two 737 Max air crashes that ultimately triggered the beginning of the end.

Boeing got greedy. Management put profits ahead of safety and the results will resonate for decades. Trust has been broken. When Covid-19 broke out the Boeing dramas were still being processed and digested – more facts will continue to emerge about how Boeing aircraft were full of flaws. Man-made flaws. The company, under the additional load of Covid-19, may not survive.

All of which relates directly to our region – and our future. Our future – up until a couple of months ago – was built on mass tourism. Cheap air travel. Quantity not quality.

Over tourism - who stood to gain? Certainly not the communities.

Now – everything has changed. It does not matter how much emergency money the Government pumps into a critically injured tourism industry – things will never be the same again. Things won’t just “bounce back”. It is not just another cycle of boom and bust.

So, what good can come of this? Actually, quite a lot.

New ways for local businesses to grow.

Authentic Tourism. A new form of higher value tourism that is sustainable and involves us being proud to tell our local, authentic stories to attentive visitors. What a change that would be from shaking our fists at visitors who should not be in rental cars, camper vans rented on a false dream of being parked in unspoilt beauty spots and tourists that generally see us Disneyland South to be consumed in three crazy days of selfies, too much booze, cheap processed food and jet lag.

Technology. We can be smart about making money. Let’s invent more stuff, pay better wages and protect our inventions from being stolen by overseas interests. Even better – let’s not sell out to overseas interests just for short term founder gains.

Art, food, wine, film - creativity. We are really good at all of these things - lets turn them all into sustainable local businesses.

The Circular Economy. The likely collapse of mass tourism due to Covid-19 will also contribute to the long-predicted decline of globalism and the rise of more local, circular markets. Communities selling and producing to their community. The benefits of this smaller, local type of economy are huge.

Wage equality. Covid-19 will shine a bright light on how unsustainable wage inequality is. It has only been made possible, on a local level, by unreasonably high profits within the tourism sector. The tourism pioneers have made fortunes on top of fortunes often without the need to sell shares, be transparent or be accountable. Wage equality will reduce the issue of affordable housing and also improve local democracy, as well as reducing our reliance on itinerant immigrant workers who use low wages to subsidise a partially funded vacation. Kiwis need local, well-paying jobs in order to build communities and families for the future.

The Verdict.

Growth might be stoppable – but change is not. Nothing will stop the effects of Covid-19 – it’s too late for that. Not just the health effects – those in fact may even be well managed, at least in New Zealand – but the social, environmental and economic effects will be far greater.

We will all, doubtless, do our best and the new order will in all likelihood be better than the old order. How the leaders of the old order are judged will depend on their contribution to the new order. Will they contribute some of their billions of historic profits to the community’s future -  or will they cut their losses, dismiss their staff and divorce themselves from a very different type of local community and economy?

But get used to one thing - life will not be the same in the future as it has been in the past. That, with all due respect to the past, could be a very good thing.





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