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‘Untourists’ and other unknowns

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Katie Nimon11 May 2020

Well, where do I start?

I’m reading a new article every day about tourism and hospitality, with solid and quite unchanging opinions about what’s going to happen. With every day being a new world in this Covid environment, I don’t know how anyone can have such a certain view.

The hospitality industry has changed entirely in one week and will change completely again in another week; and tourism, well, that hasn’t even started yet.

What I’m saying is, how do we know until we know? All we can do is become more agile, better prepared, and less fixed.

I mean, right now, I am quite literally writing this article from a plywood desk in the sand at Cape Sanctuary, staring at an amphitheatre of sand dunes. I’m taking a moment to write while on the set of a photo shoot for a company that has used this situation as an opportunity to make easy-to-put-together, work-from-home desks and chairs, and easy-to-move café seating.

My point is, it’s not really about what you do, it’s about how quickly and easily you’re able to do it. If anyone has learnt anything during this crisis, it is surely that we can never be certain of anything ever again, so stop putting all your eggs in one basket.

Over this time, for tourism and hospitality in particular, I’ve made a few assumptions about the future, and some things I think we can expect to change long-term.

First, I expect the age of the casual employee. Or the contractor perhaps.

One benefit is diversification for the employee, not relying too heavily on one revenue stream, and taking work when and from where it comes. Another benefit is the likelihood that employers will feel more confident to take people on, meeting demand when it’s there, and taking opportunities that they might otherwise have been under-resourced for. Already there are platforms being built to trade ‘gigs’.

Second, a focus on the ‘experiential commercialisation’ of the primary industries. Not a new thought either. Interestingly, this is something I wrote about years ago, when talking about Agri-tourism.

Basically, we should be making experiences out of the interesting things we already do, not concocting new attractions that otherwise must stand alone. Let’s visit and ‘experience’ a working farm or wildlife sanctuary. We’re not doing enough of this, or imaginatively enough.

Now, I know what you’re thinking; we do that already with wine tours. Yes, you’re right, we do. However, is the cellar door the experience we want anyway? I’d rather experience the process. Walk down the vines with the vintner. Sample from the barrel. Learn.

What it really means is that when tourism ebbs, our primary purpose still exists, but when it flows, we generate some fat for the winter. Not only that, but it is tourism in its purest form. It’s not a theme park, it’s the commercialisation of a place of interest, the dictionary definition of tourism. Authentic experiences, finally!

Third, the ‘Untourist’. Say goodbye to the ‘tourists’ donning their ‘visit New Zealand’ outfit (typically something you’d wear on a safari, with hiking boots or sandals). Why would you want to broadcast that you don’t belong? I don’t really know how to articulate the feeling, but it’s really a loss of trust.

Last year, cruise ships were innocent tourist vessels that supported port-town economies. Now, I worry they’ll be seen as floating leprosy colonies. Just the other day, I saw a foreign visitor at the beach and instinctively wondered how they were still able to be here.

After a really interesting chat, from a distance of course, I discovered that she and her husband were touring around New Zealand with the intention of finding somewhere to settle. They’re now doing the right thing and staying put during Level 4 and 3, but it still felt strange to see ‘outsiders’.

We’re all going to need some time to get used to welcoming visitors with open arms and a warm embrace, because what they could possibly bring with them scares us. That said, if there is a vaccine, perhaps we’ll all be a lot more relaxed.

See, again, this is all purely circumstantial. How can anyone make a statement during times like these? It’s all purely speculation at this point.

The Untourist thought leads me to another point. The one everyone in ‘the biz’ is talking about. The market for the domestic traveller versus the international traveller. We’ve treated them differently for so long, but without trying.

Why? More often than not, you can’t tell a domestic traveller from a local. Really, you don’t notice them at all. So of course, the question is: are you ready? Hospitality … no problem. Every restaurant is geared toward locals, but propped up by tourism. We don’t have the population to keep afloat the number of restaurants in Hawke’s Bay.

Tourism, though, is another story, because I can’t see a group of locals, let alone Wellingtonians, keeping the van tour operators busy, when independent travel is what Kiwis really like. It’s tour operators I worry for.

Domestic visitors still need somewhere to stay, and they still need to eat. But tours … do they need to, or even want to? I don’t know, and that’s what scares me. My suggestion, if you’re a tour operator – find the key to something no one else has access to … literally, if you can.

So, the real question should be: Are you ready for anything? Because we can all put yellow signs in our windows and buy hand sanitiser pumps, but we can’t assume the market will stay the same.

Katie Nimon11 May 2020

3 responses to “‘Untourists’ and other unknowns”

  1. Grant Nicholson says:

    Tourism operators should be very seriously looking at the older market. We’ve had something of a fixation on adventure tourism for the younger groups. Now particularly, the older people have the money and the time to do things during the week (instead of weekends) and would be interested in seeing and doing things that don’t involve throwing oneself off a bridge, or flying down some rapids in a rubber boat, etc. Something evenly paced with lots of local interest/history, nice food and wine, and meeting locals would be worth looking at. And it could be a daily contact/income for the areas concerned. This would certainly help until the borders open – but chase the high value tourists (ie the older groups) rather than freedom campers and bungy jumpers

  2. Rob Pharazyn says:

    On that basis, there must be a ready market for white bread ham sandwiches with Colmans mustard?

  3. Paul Bailey says:

    Most employees, like most employers, are looking for certainty. I’m not sure that casual employment fits this bill at all. It may be a solution in the short term but long term it has long term, detrimental effects.

    Otherwise I agree that tourism has to start thinking outside the box and work out how to work in a post CIVID-19 world.

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