Opinion: Catering for the tourists 

By Peter Carr

There are times when one just must stop and marvel at what is around us. The sheer splendour of this lovely country starts to set the mind wandering at what we have – and moreover what we do not appreciate.

Sunday was one of those ‘wandering’ days. It was a gloriously sunny day with a very blue and equally clear sky. And wandering over the Kaimai hill to lunch at a friend’s retirement village in Bethlehem the first moment of joy was that there were no large and slow trucks clogging the steep slopes of the that hill. Even truck drivers need a day off and we were thankful for it. And on the way back, cresting the brow, and being entranced by the sheer beauty of the vista of the sun drenched plain of the Waikato rolling out before the car.

During lunch with several friends, we discussed together how we were channelling our disposable income in enjoyment terms. As in not travelling overseas and directing our out-of-home experiences towards enhanced use of our own country.

We all threw our observations into the hat – or rather on to the lunch table – with the sun streaming in from the terrace and the glistening waters of Tauranga Harbour reflecting the rays of the sun. And discussed the attitude of tourism operators – static or mobile – and their commercial attitude to how they can attract Kiwis to wander the plains, valleys and hills and be divested from their cash.

Interestingly – and remember this was a group of retired citizens – we canvassed those towns and commercial operators who were ready to do deals. Or simply put which town or region really wanted to catch (and more importantly retain) visitors from not too far away. Given that international tourism is not exactly dead but is most certainly in limbo for a long period.

Interestingly, judging from the conversation, both Rotorua and Taupo commercial operators were indicating sensible and affordable packages – where for a stay of more than just two nights decent ‘all in’ arrangements and ‘free’ breakfast are the order of the day. My daughter and her son visited recently and balked at paying $28 each for breakfast in their tourist hotel in New Plymouth. The discussion then centred upon Queenstown whose high-profile mayor constantly beats the drum of how attractive his area is – but fails to mention that commercial operators in that area are caught in a warp of high prices, huge landlord incomes and the inability to replace low-paid foreign worker with Kiwis who have a different slant on the exchange of labour for cash in the hand.

Which then reflects on the real problem – labour in the tourism and hospitality industries. Where the disappearance of cheap overseas labour and the comfort of easy-to-obtain WINZ payments causes the industries to be caught in a trap of having to pay more for labour against a reluctance of Kiwi travellers who resist price gouging operators.

As the nurses struggle for sensible pay equity, it is apparent that the government does not have the wherewithal or capability of addressing this wider dilemma in an equitable manner. The drive towards sensible base pay rates versus the needs of the market by both providers and consumers is bringing the nation to the brink of internal war. Not of the military type but of a social morass that cannot be settled until the labour market has a layer of moderately paid labour for whom serving food, pulling pints and picking apples are reflective of both love and necessity.

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