Issue #41 - 8 Reasons Why New Zealand May Be a Benchmark for the Future of Tourism

“The fight against COVID-19 is an all-out war."

Hello. Welcome to Asia Travel Re:Set…

“Forget Phuket, Bali and Singapore-Hong Kong, the region’s most vociferous border reopening debate is developing in Australia.”

Last week, I noted that pressure is intensifying in Australia to facilitate some level of international travel sooner than the “mid-2022” ballpark date recently outlined.

This week, I’m (vicariously) crossing the Tasman Sea to New Zealand, where the region’s most thoughtful discussion is fomenting about the future shape of tourism.

Over the past 15 months, we’ve heard tourism actors worldwide promising to “rethink and refresh” travel for a sustainable new era.

It’s perhaps too soon to judge those efforts, but the portents aren’t promising.

Economic necessity is forcing some destinations (Europe, Bali and Phuket) to rush re-openings that attempt to mirror how things used to be as much as possible - overlaid by essential health protocols and limits on visitor freedom.

New Zealand’s internal discussions about reimagining the visitor economy to drastically reduce the carbon impact are far-reaching. They won’t please everyone, particularly if the notion of ‘de-growth’ gains traction on both sides of ‘The Ditch.’

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The Sunday Itinerary

- DashBoard 

  • From 4.3 billion down to 28 for Singapore Airlines Group this week

- QuoteBoard 

  • ‘Singapore Variant,’ Tokyo 2021, China’s “all-out war” on COVID-19

- 8 Reasons Why New Zealand May Be a Benchmark for the Future of Tourism


From 4.3 billion down to 28 in Singapore Airlines Group’s 2020-21 financial results…

  • SGD4.3 billion: Singapore Airlines posts a record net loss after experiencing its “toughest year in history.”

  • 97.9%: Passenger traffic slumped “due to global restrictions on international travel.”

  • 76.1%: Plunge in Group revenue compared to 2019-20.

  • 41: Number of the group’s fleet deemed “surplus to requirements.”

  • 28%: The Group expects passenger capacity to be just over one-quarter of pre-COVID levels in June 2021, rising to 32% in July.

Source: Singapore Airlines Group Financial Performance


You heard it here…

“There is no 'Singapore variant'.”

Singapore's Ministry of Health responds to comments by Delhi’s Chief Minister that a new variant of COVID-19 had been detected. [Singapore Ministry of Health]

“The advice we have from the WHO and all other scientific and medical advice that we have is that all of those measures that we are undertaking are satisfactory and will ensure a safe and secure Games in terms of health. And that’s the case whether there is a state of emergency or not.”

John Coates, Chairman of the Coordination Commission for the Games of the XXXII Olympiad Tokyo 2020, insists the show will go on. [The Asahi Shimbun]

“The fight against COVID-19 is an all-out war that calls for a systemic response to coordinate pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions, balance targeted routine COVID-19 protocols and emergency measures, and ensure both epidemic control and socio-economic development.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping supports the US call for waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines during the G20 Global Health Summit. [Xinhua]

- 8 Reasons Why New Zealand May Be a Benchmark for the Future of Tourism

Image courtesy of Tourism New Zealand

We continue to assume a significant opening of the border on 1 January 2022, when populations in New Zealand and the rest of the developed world are expected to be largely vaccinated against COVID-19. However, it is likely to be longer before unrestricted global travel can resume given the difference in vaccination progress worldwide, so a gradual recovery in services exports is forecast.”

New Zealand Budget Economic & Fiscal Update, 20 May 2021

The past decade saw strong growth in travel for New Zealand. It counted 14.03 million arrivals/departures in the year ended March 2019 versus 9.03 million in the year to March 2010. For obvious reasons, the figure slumped to 319,700 in the year ended March 2021, according to Statistics New Zealand.

Over the past year, New Zealand has taken stock of the economic, environmental, social and cultural costs and benefits of travel and tourism.

Tourism Futurist, Ian Yeoman, who is Associate Professor at Victoria University of Wellington, said recently:

“We have had time to meditate and think about what is the future of tourism. Destination leaders in New Zealand have used this word ‘re-imagination.’ They want to see what could New Zealand tourism look like in 10 or 15 years time. What do we really want it to be? At the centre of this debate are sustainability and climate change. The big issue going forward for the debate between ‘re-imagination’ and ‘re-growing’ is that sometimes they are in conflict.”

Here are 8 factors influencing the debate:

1) “Progressive” View on Vaccinated Travel

Having secured a second term as Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern may prove a more pragmatic operator than the staunch ‘COVID Elimination’ advocate of the past 15 months.

Last week, I featured her comment that:

“We’ll continue to ask the question, is there a point at which we can start letting people into New Zealand based not on us having a bubble arrangement with their country, but because they’ve been vaccinated and they can prove it? That does remain a possibility.”

This week, Grant Robertson, the Finance Minister, discussed “a progressive opening… with opportunities with other countries as the year goes on.”

Referencing Vietnam and Taiwan, he noted that recent outbreaks in previously COVID-safe places highlight the two-way challenges of reopening, but added:

“We’re looking forward to inviting as many people as possible back here as soon as we can.”

New Zealand PM Ardern and Australian PM Morrison will meet in Queenstown on 31 May. With Australian media reporting that the Morrison government is discussing a vaccine passport with airlines to permit international travel, both vaccinated travel and climate change are likely to be agenda items.

2) Travel Bubble Expediency

It’s worth remembering that PM Ardern suggested the Trans-Tasman Travel Bubble concept to Australia back in April 2020. Australia’s government has since confirmed that New Zealand dictated the terms and timing for the initial 1-way implementation in October 2020, and the conversion to a 2-way bubble in April 2021.

This week, New Zealand introduced a 2-way, quarantine-free travel bubble with the Cook Islands, which permits Australian travellers to participate provided they have spent at least 14 days in New Zealand before flying to Raratonga.

However, as the quote by PM Ardern above highlights, travel bubbles are a short-term expedient. Expect New Zealand to shift towards a phased “vaccinated traveller” stance.

3) Regional Vaccine Programme

New Zealand’s vaccine programme commences for the general population in July. Frontline workers and vulnerable citizens are now receiving their jabs.

New Zealand has a population of 5,116,300 - meaning the programme should be completed fairly quickly.

Interestingly, the immunisation rollout extends beyond New Zealand’s own borders, as the Ministry of Health notes:

“We have secured enough Pfizer vaccine for everyone in New Zealand aged 16 and over to get the two doses they need against COVID-19. We’re also buying vaccines for those in the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, Sāmoa, Tonga and Tuvalu.”

4) A “Trusted” Destination

The concept of trust is often overlooked by countries that rush to reopen their borders. Instead, they tend to focus on markets from which travellers are permitted to take international flights. Trust may prove crucial for attracting travellers from key source markets, such as China, Japan, South Korea and South East Asia.

While “pent-up demand” and a desire for “revenge travel” are liberally quoted by travel professionals, consumer sentiment surveys suggest that destination choices will be COVID-related. A survey in late March of Chinese travellers by Dragon Trail, for example, revealed that 56% of respondents will choose a destination with zero confirmed cases, and 31% will select a destination that has reached herd immunity.

New Zealand, which has followed a widely publicised COVID elimination strategy - and whose tourism sector is based around outdoor adventure and crowd-less landscapes - will unquestionably be a ‘Trusted Destination’.

Expect vibrant demand for travel to the Land of the Long White Cloud when it permits vaccinated visitors.

On this week’s The South East Asia Travel Show, we chat with Charlotte Louwman-Vogels, CEO of Fair Tourism, a non-profit foundation that undertakes community-based tourism projects in Thailand. Charlotte discusses her work with the Kayan tribe in Huay Pu Keng to transition from a commercial show village (or “human zoo”) into a self-sustaining tourism community managed by the locals themselves. 

Listen to the podcast HERE

5) A Leader in Self-Drive Trips

Self-drive tourism was expanding fast pre-pandemic, particularly in New Zealand and Australia. Growing numbers of tourists, particularly from China, North East Asia and South East Asia, took to the roads to explore and discover on their own terms.

Rental cars and camper vans were booked out months ahead of peak travel periods.

In 2019, Tourism New Zealand noted:

“Visitors on self-drive holidays are considered high-value because they visit multiple regions and their spending benefits local communities.”

During the pandemic, domestic travellers across the region have embraced road trips as a safe way to explore off-track parts of their own countries.

Self-drive travel will be a prominent feature of vaccine-era Asia Pacific travel, and New Zealand is well positioned. It offers excellent highway infrastructure, a developed vehicle hire system and dramatic landscapes that are viewable from the roadside.

6) Tourism Pricing

As discussed in Issue #39, New Zealand has vigorously debated the issues of over-tourism, destination dispersal, environmental protection and the pressure tourism has caused on its national infrastructure.

In 2019, New Zealand introduced the International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy. The NZD35 per traveller fee (with exemptions for Australians and Pacific Islanders) was introduced “to help pay for conservation and tourism infrastructure.”

Once international travel moves back through the gears, destinations worldwide are likely to reassess the issue of tourism pricing. In many cases, this will be to cover some of the financial losses and vast government borrowing occasioned by the pandemic.

New Zealand’s societally focused approach to tourism pricing set it apart before COVID-19, and may do so once more in future.

7) Tourism & Environmental Protection

A controversial tourism impact report was released in 2019 entitled Pristine, popular... imperilled? The environmental consequences of projected tourism growth. It stoked strong passions not least because the nation’s promotional slogan is “100% Pure New Zealand.” 

Simon Upton, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, who produced the report describes tourism’s environmental effects as “inconvenient intrusions of reality.”

A further report, published in October 2020, concluded:

“Higher spending visitors tend to have lower carbon emissions than lower spending visitors per dollar spent in the New Zealand economy. As such, the ‘value over volume’ [strategy] should help to minimise the carbon footprint of tourism to New Zealand.”

Its recommendations included:

  • Encourage high-value tourists to stay longer, helping to amortise the carbon emissions from their trip over a longer time.

and - with reference to 5) above:

  • Focus on transitioning New Zealand’s rental car fleet to lower-carbon technologies, such as electric vehicles.

The latest report, Not 100% – but four steps closer to sustainable tourism, was published in February 2021. Its four key proposals included:

“Introducing a departure tax that reflects the environmental cost of flying internationally from New Zealand, and use the resulting revenues to support the development of low-carbon aviation technologies and provide a source of climate finance for Pacific Island nations.”

8) Sustainable Aviation Fuels & Low-Carbon Aircraft

New Zealand’s geographic isolation makes air travel essential for connecting with the world. Before the pandemic, a national debate was crystallising about the future of low-emission aviation.

Air New Zealand has published Sustainable Aviation Fuel in New Zealand, a White Paper for developing a production and supply chain for non-fossil aircraft fuel in the country.

Such planes would be powered by fuels derived from “used cooking oils, landfill waste or forestry or agricultural residues.”

As Meagan Schloeffel, Head of Sustainability at Air New Zealand, wrote this week:

“Our aspiration is that new, low-carbon technologies like electric, hybrid or hydrogen aircraft will dramatically reduce the emissions of shorter domestic and regional flights as soon as 2030. For long-haul travel, the key solution to significantly reducing emissions is Sustainable Aviation Fuel.”

Air New Zealand isn’t the only airline undertaking such research, but it is doing so in the context of a national debate about tourism, the ecology and climate change.

And, that’s a wrap for Issue 41. 

Next Sunday, Dr Jaeyeon Choe and Michelle Dy will return for the May edition of the Asia Pacific Travel & Tourism Report.

Until then, you can find me on TwitterLinkedIn, and the Asia Travel Re:Set website. 

Have a great week,