Election 2017: NZ First’s Fletcher Tabuteau

Fletcher Tabuteau

In our series* of interviews and Q&A’s with political party tourism spokespersons, NZ First’s tourism spokesman, Fletcher Tabuteau, who has both worked in and taught tourism, shares his vision for the industry and outlines how he would address some of its pressing challenges.

Listen to Tabuteau explain his vision for NZ’s tourism industry, why there’s nothing for the sector’s employers to fear from NZ First’s immigration stance and how his personal preference for a tourist border tax has been over-ruled by his party, in part because of the Tourism Industry Aotearoa’s position.

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. In comparison to other NZ export industry’s Tourism receives very little support from the current government. We see the need to focus on broadening the shoulders of our peak season and at the same time spreading the benefits out into our regions. This would augment our argument for a sustainable approach going forward. NZ First supports the industries own focus on growing yield per visitor rather than just growing volume.

We support industry’s call for a senior front bench Minister in the next government to hold the Tourism portfolio. New Zealand First would give tourism the support it needs from central government by establishing a separate Ministry of Tourism, either within MBIE or as a separate entity, currently there is a Minister without a Ministry. New Zealand First will ensure that tourism is part of government research and innovation programmes and would support the industry to develop a longer term plan beyond 2030.

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. All your readers will know that the current $100 million infrastructure fund has simply cannibalised existing pools of funding and been rebranded. NZ First believes that something monumental is required immediately; return all GST earnt from International tourism in the regions to those regions; the regions earn over $1.15 billion in International Tourist GST receipts in 2015-16. This money will be tagged for specific or dual purpose infrastructure. This then frees up the financial burden on ratepayers, particularly for those local councils with small ratepayer bases.

Q. Do you support a tourist border levy? If so, how much and if not, why not, especially if it is believed it would not affect the number of visitors to NZ?

A. No, we do not support a border levy.

Q. The government collects more than $1bn in GST from international visitors –  do you support the return of tourist GST to the regions to help pay for infrastructure?

A. Yes – NZ First came out with this policy early on in our Tour for the Regions earlier this year. It means funds go to those best in the position to see it allocated efficiently and spent wisely, that is not the bureaucrats and Politicians in Wellington

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

A. No, this would be an ad hoc administrative nightmare. Although our regions would be big winners from our GST back to the regions policy. Auckland and Queenstown would benefit hugely from this policy.

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, we do not think the government, in particular, is interested in preparing. I often accuse the national party of being 80’s bean counters. They have no vision and no thought beyond a balance sheet of today. This short-sightedness will cost the country exponentially more in the short future. Recent studies have shown that the NZ public is becoming slightly more concerned about the impact tourism is having on our environment and the ability of our existing infrastructure to cope. NZ First would ensure that a Tourism Ministry is focused on these broader issues and how best to move forward to leverage the most from tourism whilst minimising its impact.

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. NZ First has the best tertiary education plan for our country. It simply asks industry and government to develop long-term plans on industry staffing needs. Then when these jobs are identified, NZ First says let’s train our people and if they pass and commit to working in the industry, we will pay their debt off, a year of work will write-off a year of study. Before this real investment in our people can take place we acknowledge that immigration and the need for skilled workers is paramount. NZ First will not cripple an industry, but neither will we import cheap unskilled labour when we should be training our own, such as the 92,000 young people not engaged in employment or training of any kind right now. This would be accompanied by a comprehensive apprenticeship package for the Tourism industry where a NZ First government will treat apprenticeships as an investment in our businesses and our future generations.

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. NZ First has never said stop immigration. We acknowledge that immigration and the need for skilled workers is paramount. NZ First will not let an industry be crippled by government policy. This means we see the need for Work visas and skilled workers etc… But this country’s lack of investment in our children and our future must stop, we must stop using mass immigration as an excuse not to support and train 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. As part of ensuring that money spent at the tertiary level is efficient we have designed a careers and guidance programme that would support our youth much more comprehensively through their secondary schooling. This will mean better informed choices and much more sensible government spending on tertiary courses at this level.

This would provide the tourism industry a channel with which to engage with young people and sell the exciting career path that is available.

I have personally already committed to working with the industry on how the industry can seek to better manage engagement and retention of staff, the industry itself acknowledges that wages and salaries need to improve. It’s a great place from which to move forward.

Q. Given the size of the industry, its expected growth, and its value to NZ’s economy, would you make tourism a University Entrance subject?

A. Those are great arguments to making it a UE subject. As a teacher who worked in the Tourism industry for years and who taught Tourism at secondary school I can say that schools need more of your support to increase real engagement with the industry. Also the courses need to be re-designed to ensure a robust level of academic vigour. I think if we can do things there is no reason why not.

* 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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