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Skills drain looming for NZ guiding industry

Guy Cotter from Adventure Consultants fears a skills drain will have a long term detrimental effect on adventure tourism. Photo: Alpine Image Company

Adventure Consultants is anticipating a tough year after cancelling all Nepal expeditions for the 2021 seasons.

CEO Guy Cotter says the company was not prepared to risk the health of clients and Nepalese citizens.

“I don’t feel it’s a good thing to go in there now and potentially have clients spread the virus into those communities,” he said.

Cotter said the quiet season in the Himalayas will be affecting the Nepalese industry.

“We have a lot of people who rely on the income our activities provide – guides, sherpas and all of the support industry that goes around it,” he said.

“We have been fundraising for our Sherpa Future Fund to pay for education of children who have lost parents in the mountains, Covid support, and something to cover their costs – it’s a result of the generosity of our client base who have appreciated what the sherpas have given them.”

New Zealand’s adventure tourism industry is also struggling, Cotter said.
“There is a perception the industry makes a lot of money, but we know it’s not like that. We work very hard for every dollar we get, and we do it because we love doing it,” he said.

“When the finances stop making sense – which they did a year ago – it’s only the really driven who will want to hang in there, and the longer we all stay in here waiting for the return of the customer base, the longer we don’t have any income with which to live. It’s definitely a struggle.”

Adventure Consultants recently sold its office building in Wanaka, as it couldn’t sustain the ongoing costs. “The irony is that a lot of industries are doing extremely well, while others involved in tourism are really suffering,” Cotter said.

“It’s quite strange to hear people complaining about how busy they are, but that’s a good problem to have.”

Cotter worries that by the time tourists return, the industry won’t be there to support it, as qualified guides will have moved into new careers.

“It’s also going to be difficult for up and coming guides who are just coming through the system, trying to get enough work to develop themselves,” he said. “We could be looking at a skills drain in the future.”

Cotter said New Zealand customers are generally price-conscious and lean towards the ‘bums on seats’ style of tourism.

“Having doctors and lawyers asking for a discount is a little hard to take, when you’re spending money to run their trip,” he said.

Wanaka’s isolation from major population centres is also problematic.

“If we were operating near Auckland, we might be doing quite well, but with the numbers of people around here, you get busy periods and then nothing,” he said.

Without clients, Cotter fears the industry won’t survive.

“Understanding the importance of retaining the industry is paramount to there being an adventure tourism industry there at the end of this,” he said.