Why we need tourists back

James Doolan of the Hotel Council writes in the Herald:

Let’s start with a quick recap of what tourism looked like before Covid border closures in March 2020. In normal times, Aotearoa hosted around 3.8 million international visitors each year including leisure tourists, business travellers and foreign students. Kiwis also travel domestically for work and leisure.

Spending by people who “don’t live around here” is critical to many businesses, and it’s easy to guess what some of those are. Unsurprisingly, tourists account for 99 per cent of air passenger transport spending and 95 per cent of overnight accommodation spending.


But the next one will be a surprise to most. Pre-Covid, 42 per cent of total spending in Kiwi restaurants and bars came from tourists. That’s more than $4.9 billion in revenue each year. International tourists alone were responsible for a gigantic one-quarter of total spending at our F&B outlets.

No wonder so many have closed.

Tourists eat out three times a day, seven days a week, not just on birthdays or when they’ve been able to organise a babysitter. Tourists are often on the trip-of-a-lifetime and far from home. Leisure tourists don’t have work tomorrow morning, or kids to get to school. If this is the only time they’ll be here, then of course tourists are more likely to splash out on the best, take the whole bottle and find space for dessert. In short, tourists are both wealthy and primed by circumstances to spend heavily on the experience of travel. 

Heh my eating out spending declined by around 95% after we had children.

Those 3.8 million international visitors are here for 10 nights on average, meaning 38 million visitor nights each year. By comparison, New Zealand’s resident population of 5 million multiplied by 365 days per year equates to 1.8 billion nights annually, ignoring the minor impact of outbound travel. When analysed this way, international tourists are just two per cent of the market, but they’re doing 25 per cent of the spending.

So spending 12 times as much.

Tourist spending on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday keeps the restaurant in business for your date night dinner on Friday. Tourists prop up the new, innovative and international-standard restaurants that we Kiwis think about only on special occasions. Without tourists, our F&B sector is smaller, less vibrant and duller than it should be. We’ve witnessed that for ourselves since international borders closed.

So next time you’re out at a restaurant, drink to the of our tourism industry. Whether you like it or not, tourists subsidised your date night.

A good point.

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