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New Zealand’s tourism industry is being told it must be constantly adapting to change with technological advances likely to have an enormous impact on their business. 

Chief Executive of the Tourism Export Council of New Zealand (TECNZ) Judy Chen (pictured) says historically tourism operators have risen to the challenge of change, but the speed in which its happening through technological advances means they can’t afford to be complacent about what’s ahead. 

The theme of the TECNZ conference being held in Hawkes Bay this year is ‘Future-proofing the Industry.’  Key global trends affecting tourism that were discussed included: climate change, the rise of the ethical consumer, changing demographics and infrastructure, the healthcare revolution, the changing world order and social media.  

“Tour Operators are good at dealing with change, be it mother nature at her fiercest or through new ways people book, research or like to travel.  

There has been a great deal of movement in how we market and what we offer with a strong shift away from large tour groups, to smaller more intimate ones and even individual itineraries being planned by tour operators.  

The massive growth in visitor numbers also means the once, highly relied upon, tour series bookings are no longer the cornerstone of hotel or visitor attraction business.  This means tour operators are now competing for space in tourism hot spots rather than having the run of them. 

There are numerous examples of our industry changing, evolving and adapting their businesses – but that process needs to be constant.”

At the conference, Jesse Keith Group Manager Future Insights at Callaghan Innovation said rather than a threat, new technologies such as AI could be an enormous factor in promoting tourism.   

“Some tourism operators would argue that technologies could spell the demise of tourism, as people will just sit at home and enjoy a ‘holiday’ from their couch via virtual reality.  We think quite the reverse, new technologies should be a powerful promotional tool to getting visitors to NZ.

Imagine standing at a travel trade show in Shanghai and taking a virtual walk along the Milford Track.  Putting people ‘virtually’ in a New Zealand holiday has to be a compelling sales pitch to getting them there in person.”

Keith said the next generation of travellers coming to New Zealand are totally connected, they have likely researched and booked everything online and when they are here, everything they do, see, experience or eat will be sent out to their followers via the fast growing Instagram.

“Research shows more than 40% of those under 33 prioritise ‘instragrammability’ when choosing their next holiday spot.  For tour operator this needs to be a key consideration, are you taking people to places where they can do this as well as providing those photo opportunities?”

Lauren Foster, Director at Deloitte said a number of disrupters are driving rapid change in the workforce and all industries are challenged by both the opportunities and threats this brings with it.  

“Individuals are keeping up and adapting to the rapid changes in technology the best, but businesses, organisations and the policies that govern them are not adapting fast enough. This means the gap between technology and businesses ability to adapt is expected to rise substantially.”

Ms Foster said the tourism industry will particularly be challenged by the expectation of the working environment they create and need to think about this across three dimensions; the work itself, the worker and the workplace. 

“People are looking for greater and greater flexibility about where and when work is done. They don’t want to be stuck at a desk in an office all day which means employers need to rethink how they recruit and manage their workforce.

The term ‘Open Talent’ is used to refer to an augmented workforce and more flexible talent pool where both businesses and workers have access to a greater number of employment options. There is much to be gained from joint ventures with other like-minded individuals or businesses, contractors, freelancers, crowd sourcing and even robots and AI.  

In a people-heavy industry like tourism, robots will have their place doing tasks that can be automated or don’t necessarily require human interaction but there will still be a need for people to provide a deeper level of customer service and in managing others.

Overall, jobs are not going away, but they are definitely changing.” 

During the discussion on ‘Moving to a renewal energy, low carbon future’, Andrew Caseley Chief Executive of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) encouraged tourism operators to invest in an Electric Vehicle (EV) future. Investing in low-emission transport and technology is crucial to address climate change and the transport sector has a big role to play.      

Judy Chen says tourism operators have the right experience and attitude to adapt to the opportunities discussed at the conference.

“We’ve been adapting and adopting since we swapped bringing visitors here from ships to jet propelled planes and restored a devastated industry after the Mt Tarawera eruption devastated a key attraction – the Pink and White Terraces overnight. “

Whatever the opportunities are – we’re an industry that’s up for it.”

Glenn Baker

Professional writer/editor with 35-plus years experience - including radio copywriting, various television writing/production roles, and writing for business magazines. I have also co-owned a wholesale food distribution business.


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