Reader commentary: Don't expect domestic tourism to be the answer

by Sumi Hahn - Apr 03, 2020

Reader Commentary: Sumi Hahn is a local Queenstown resident who has previously lived and worked in the US.

"Tourism in Queenstown is dead. Long live tourism! That seems to be the mixed message Mayor Boult is sending by voicing the hope that more Kiwis will now holiday in Queenstown, making up for the loss in international tourism, which allegedly made up 50% of 2019’s three million visitors to our little town.

Unfortunately, Mr. Boult’s optimism overlooks the brute fact that most New Zealanders will not be taking a vacation for a very long time. Scores of businesses will vanish during the lockdown, as jobs and income disappear—all casualties of the virus. Bills are mounting up.

Aside from the 1 percent, no one is going to think, “Hey, let’s do our bit for Queenstown and holiday there next year.”

The reality is terrifying for our tourism-dependent town. But the silver lining to any disaster is the chance to do what has never been done before. We cannot fix what was already broken in the first place—and has now been dealt a death-blow by COVID-19. Don’t waste resources and dollars on keeping zombie industries afloat. Now is the time to dream a better world for Queenstown and all of New Zealand.

Tourism was already the most unsustainable of businesses, with its reliance on low-paid workers and high-emission modes of transport. As an island nation far away from the madding world, New Zealand needs to play up its natural strengths. No, we are not like everyone else. Yes, we are far, far away. And because of that distance, we must do everything differently. Let’s dream up business that didn’t exist before. Let’s show the world that New Zealand is indeed a paradise on earth—in every sense of the word.

  • Create more jobs to help protect New Zealand’s biodiversity. We need armies of people to capture predators, remove wilding pines, and plant native stock.
  • Invest heavily in education: From trade-training to STEM research, let’s put our dollars towards educating our children, so they do a better job than we did. New Zealand can become one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world—we are small and nimble enough to do this.
  • Create the most stringent bio-security measures in the world. An entire industry can and should emerge from this debacle. Kiwis have the brain-power and tenacity. Let’s protect our nation and teach others how to protect theirs. If people want to visit this beautiful country, then they will need to be quarantined in government facilities for two weeks. Afterwards, they can travel safely and with peace of mind.
  • While we’re protecting our borders from pathogens, let’s also protect the country from excess packaging. Instead of importing and exporting a mountain of trash in both directions when our trade resumes, let’s impose stricter standards on the way goods enter our countries. Does a pair of Nike sneakers really need to enter in its own box, with cardboard inserts and plastic wrap? If Nike wants to sell shoes in New Zealand, make them do so with minimal packaging. 
  • Invest heavily in home-grown creative talent. New Zealand’s musical and film talent rank up there with the best in the world. Let’s follow the example of South Korea and expand what we offer on the musical, film, and artistic fronts.
  • Why not give every Kiwi a universal income, enough to pay for the essentials? 

How to pay for all of this? To begin with, raise taxes, especially on the rich.

The pandemic is showing us where our weakest links are. As a country, we are only as strong as our weakest link. Make sure that all of the essential workers whose backs we ride on during this crisis receive hazard pay, additional health benefits, and government assurance that their families will be cared for if something, heaven forbid, happens to them."

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