Home / Articles / Web exclusive

The future of tourism in New Zealand

One scenario futurist Ian Yeoman imagines is the introduction of moose into the wilderness for big game hunters. Photo: NPS/Jacob W Frank

A futurist games four possible scenarios for New Zealand’s tourism industry in a world that has (and hasn't) managed to get a hold of Covid-19.

The silver lining of the Covid-19 global pandemic may be a swing towards so-called ‘slow’ tourism characterised by low-consumption, spending time with family and friends and preservation of the environment.

This vision of the country’s travel and tourism sector is one of four scenarios posed by Victoria University of Wellington futurist Dr Ian Yeoman.

“Whether you see this view of the future as a good or a bad thing will depend on your perspective, of course,” says Yeoman.

“Some tourists and tourism businesses want things to quickly return to the pre-COVID days of strong growth and mass tourism. For others, particularly those concerned about over-tourism, this scenario may represent a silver lining in the dark cloud of COVID-19.”

In June, four months after the outbreak of COVID-19 in New Zealand, Yeoman published a paper outlining four possible futures for New Zealand tourism. 

The paper draws on analysis of the forces at play in the global tourism and travel industry, recent pandemic data and academic interpretation. 

Some of the trends highlighted in the paper include an increased public appetite for leadership, expertise and authority and a desire to connect to nature, get back-to-basics and volunteer.

“At times like these, we start to see people’s values and behaviours change. We become more concerned for others and we move away from individualism. One of the notable trends we’re seeing in New Zealand is a concern about consumption and waste.”

During global pandemics, people also begin to prioritise family, health and safety and low-budget staycations.

However, says Yeoman, these trends vary from country to country, depending on the prevailing values and culture of the place. 

In the US, for example, environmental sustainability isn’t a hot topic like it is in New Zealand and Europe. 

“Data shows sustainability simply doesn’t resonate with more than 65 per cent of Americans. Largely that’s because of Trump politics and because the US is more of a ‘me-focused’ society,” he says.

The goal of Yeoman’s four scenarios is to help New Zealand make sense of the complex situation it finds itself in and to help business, government decision-makers and tourists respond to the fallout from the pandemic.

Two scenarios reflect what may happen over the next five years in response to a short and shallow recession caused by the pandemic.

For example, either a return to the status quo or the beginning of a new era characterised by community, collective priorities and a shared concern and care for the environment.

Another two illustrate what might occur in the medium-term should the pandemic create a long, deep recession.

For example, the disappearance of tourism altogether except for COVID-free experiences aimed at the super-rich and a widening of the economic and class divide in New Zealand or limited tourism managed by trade and travel bubbles.

Yeoman has named each of his four scenarios after a well-known movie to help people engage with them and visualise what they describe.

Ultimately, however, the goal of his paper, written in collaboration with the Dutch Centre of Expertise for Leisure, Tourism and Hospitality and the European Tourism Futures Institute, is to help New Zealand reflect, take stock and imagine what global tourism might look like in 2025.

Read more about Dr Yeoman’s four scenarios on the Victoria University of Wellington’s website.

The future of tourism in New Zealand

Dr Ian Yeoman of Victoria University of Wellington has identified four scenarios for the future of tourism in New Zealand.

1. Crazy Rich Asians: Recovery

We imagine a future where we just want to get back to normal. Tourism New Zealand’s marketing campaign says ‘Live More, Fear Less’. This scenario presumes Covid-19 has been eliminated and contained across the world. Global tourism has rebounded quickly, evident by wealthy tourists – many from buoyant Asian markets – returning to New Zealand in hordes to spend, spend, spend. We see unrestrained behaviour in Queenstown as the party central. Over-tourism has re-emerged in hotspots such as the Church of the Good Shepherd and mass tourism seems to be the new norm. In the drive for recovery, sustainable tourism guidelines were suspended. This meant imported moose from Canada are again roaming in Southland. Big game shooting is a high-yield tourism activity.

2. Contagion: Survival of the Fittest

Covid-19 has spread throughout the world, no one has escaped. Like the common cold, there is no vaccine. Globally, social disorder prevails. We now live in a world where tourism as we know it has disappeared, although a few of the super-rich have descended on Stewart Island – now a gated community of the privileged class. Across the world, protectionism prevails and New Zealand is a third world country according to OECD indicators. Social deprivation is everywhere. Tourism is only for society’s elite and those tourists can be spotted in eco-resorts such as Eagles Nest and on Kiwi safaris. It resembles apartheid in South Africa, the economic and class divide has never been so great.

3. The Colony: Gated Communities

Covid‐19 is a permanent feature but governments step in to manage it with regulation. Our borders have closed, then opened again as waves appear and disappear. We live in a world that is not back to normal, but we can operate in a relatively safe environment. Generally, we are more risk-averse. From a tourism perspective, the middle classes have been squeezed so tourism is less than what it was before. We do have Australian tourists who are in our bubble and international tourists who carry a WHO certificate as Covid-19 free. Track and trace is the norm as Google is now working with the government so they know where you are and what you are doing. Tourism New Zealand’s marketing campaign ‘Cocoon in New Zealand’ struck a chord. We are a safe place to holiday, relatively speaking.

4. This Side of Paradise: ReThinking Tourism

Covid-19 has changed the world and tourism has changed too. We are more altruistic and take a collective approach to collective well-being and towards others in society. It seems as if tourism has grown to be the solution for New Zealand’s problems. Tourism is right at the heart of our communities with the balance between residents, business, and tourists just about right. We are the ‘EcoParadise’ according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation. As a consequence of the pandemic and the 100% Pure New Zealand Climate Change and Sustainable Tourism Act of 2021, the country enacted a whole series of changes within the industry beginning with a certified green hotel scheme in which every hotel in New Zealand is graded from a sustainability perspective. Stewart Island was the first community in the country to abandon the petrol combustion engine, with all transport being either hydrogen cells or electric. All of Air New Zealand’s domestic schedule is on course to be electric planes by 2030, thanks to an accelerated research, design and build programme with Airbus. Our conservation credentials are the best.