Election 2017: TOP’s Lesley Immink

Lesley Immink and TOP leader Gareth Morgan

In the first of a series* of Q&A’s with political party tourism spokespersons, Lesley Immink, former chief of the Tourism Export Council and now The Opportunities Party’s East Coast candidate, shares her vision for the industry and outlines how she would meet the challenges ahead.   

Listen to Immink on why she believes we must bring back the Ministry of Tourism, why Tourism Industry Aotearoa is not doing enough to protect the environment, and the government’s lack of support for the sector compared to agriculture.       

Q. Tourism is a $35bn industry, earning $15bn a year in international expenditure making it NZ’s largest export earner – what is your overall vision for the industry and what will you do to help bring that about? 

A. That tourism is recognised as the number one export sector by mainstream New Zealand which provides economic, cultural and environmental benefits to the country. If everyday New Zealand recognises this, this will increase the political will of the major parties to acknowledge it as well. Our climate change and environmental policies are the key to protecting the environment so that we can continue to promote 100% Pure New Zealand experience.

Q. Many regions are suffering under the strain of growing tourism numbers with infrastructure such as toilets, roads and rubbish disposal coming under strain – how will you help those regions, many with very low ratepayer bases, cope with the number of tourists visiting?

A. Fund the regions appropriately with a proportion of the GST spend (from international and domestic visitor numbers) going back to the regions. The current system of doing nothing until things reach crisis point is not working so this GST spend being returned to the regions deserves a go.

We need to trial this at least for a term to monitor whether more employment is created and infrastructure is corrected so that all can enjoy. The blame game re who should pay for infrastructure is redundant. Communities who are not growing with ratepayers will never be able to sustain infrastructure growth like larger cities and communities.

Q. Do you support a tourist border levy? If so, how much?

A. Yes, the TOP party believes there should be a $20 additional environmental levy applied to the biosecurity tax at the border but hypothecated for the environment.

Q. Do you support Auckland’s move to implement a bed tax on accommodation providers and if so, do you believe it should be put in place in other cities such as Queenstown? 

A. No – the government should share the GST spend out to the regions. Government invests in regional irrigation and support for primary industries and it is time for them to support tourism. A proportional return of GST spend and an additional environmental levy is all that international visitors should pay to keep things simple. International visitors will not mind paying at the border and unaware of what happens to their GST spend once they leave.

Q. Five million tourists are expected in the country annually in just six years’ time, up from 3.5 million last year – do you believe the country is preparing itself adequately for such numbers and what can you do to help ensure we have the social license to cope with such growth?

A. No. Tourism needs to manage proactively its reputation in New Zealand and offshore rather than reacting on an issue by issue basis. Tourism must actively be part of the decision-making process and recruit/encourage tour operators to represent the industry’s position on local and regional councils, conservation boards and central Government. This influence will keep them at the forefront in anticipating negative ‘social license to operate’ perceptions and TOP’s environmental policy will help protect negative perceptions of strain on infrastructure and local communities.

Q. The industry is predicting it will need an additional 36,000 full-time jobs by 2025 to cope with the expected growth, that includes 8000 accommodation managers and 6000 chefs – how will you help ensure we can fill all of those jobs?

A. TOP’s education policy has us moving away from the 3 Rs to the 4 Cs – communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. In other words change how we learn as opposed as teaching towards assessments and entry-level jobs will be assessed on skills and knowledge rather than qualifications. This will give more confidence to young people to choose hospitality as a potential employment option.

TOP also wants to introduce a youth UBI for 18-23-year-olds, (Unconditional Basic Income) of $200 per week, no questions asked. The purpose of this is to help people with seasonality and part-time work with this being either a cash in hand top up, money towards accommodation or used as a transition stable income. An UBI also takes away the stigma of shame and embarrassment of needing assistance. Once we build pride in people it will enable them to make better decisions and it is the industry’s job to encourage young people to consider hospitality training – aided by the UBI as they learn more about the industry in the early stages.

Q. Many tourism activity, accommodation and hospitality operators struggle to find local staff and rely on overseas workers to help fill vacancies – what guarantee can you give those operators that good access to overseas workers will remain in place?

A. TOP’s immigration policy is to encourage migrants who add value to our economy and decrease those who easy entry lower skilled migrants. However, it wants it done in a managed way at the same time of increasing education and training opportunities for New Zealanders.

Q. The tourism sector struggles with concerns of low industry pay and a lack of a career pathway – what can you do to help next generation of New Zealanders believe tourism is an attractive career to pursue?

A. It is not government or any political parties mandate to give funding re selling the benefit of working in any particular sector but the industry need a national PR campaign of “selling the sizzle” of working in the industry. However, good education policy and career pathway information can add value to choices for young people and life changers to choose tourism.

Q. Given the size of the industry, its expected growth, and its value to NZ’s economy, will you make tourism a University Entrance subject again after it was removed as an NCEA subject in 2014?

A. TOP does not currently have an opinion on this but my opinion is yes, it should be re-instated as a University Entrance subject.

* Because of our Election 2017 coverage this week, our regular columns, From the Regions, Wednesday Letter, Buy Side/Sell Side and An Operator’s View will not run and will return next week. 

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