25 Apr, 2022 02:00 AM4 minutes to read
Keeley Alton, General Manager Corporate Traveller, Flight Centre talking about the future of business travel. Video / Dean Purcell
Flight Centre boss David Coombes says the government needs to start trusting the private sector
When we think about why the Christchurch rebuild has dragged on for years following the tragic earthquake in February 2011 – excessive red tape could be largely blamed for the delays.
We’re now facing
a rebuild of another kind – rebuilding our economy following the impact of Covid-19. Once again government control is getting in the way of action, and it worries me how long this rebuild could take if things stay as is.
What has become abundantly clear over the last couple of years is the government’s reluctance to engage with or leverage the capability of the private sector. This is despite multiple calls from industry experts for involvement in managing the fallout from the pandemic. We had ideas, solutions and would have happily provided advice and support to the government.
To use our industry as an example, who would have been better placed to manage MIQ logistics? Ensuring MIQ spaces and flight availability aligned, plus actually collecting the MIQ fees that the taxpayer is now footing the bill for.
That’s our bread and butter. Not to mention we were an industry that was clearly in need of the work and associated revenues to protect our viability.
Despite multiple offers to assist, and attempts to engage, it wasn’t until just before Christmas last year that our sector was invited to register interest in providing a solution. We now know this was after health officials informed the government that MIQ was no longer justified on public health grounds. The timing is truly bizarre.
But with the Omicron peak behind us, let’s not dwell on the past and instead look to the future. Now more than ever we need the government to unleash the private sector.
First things first, let’s get these borders open (air and maritime), with fewer restrictions.
It will come as no surprise that I would love to see the travel and tourism industry back humming again – both inbound and outbound, who are co-dependent. Tourism was our country’s largest export earner pre-Covid and employed one in seven New Zealanders.
The positive impact of border relaxations would also be felt more widely than just the travel and tourism sector. Industries such as hospitality, education, agriculture, construction… the list goes on, would benefit directly. Removing barriers to enter our country would bring tourists into our restaurants and hotels, international students to our schools and universities, and workers in to fill the huge number of job vacancies.
Here are three simple measures I suggest the government implements to let NZ Inc do its thing:
• Open up to the rest of the world immediately. There seems to be no logical reason for any further delays on this, other than control.
• Get rid of the RAT test requirement to enter New Zealand, unless you are symptomatic. It’s an unnecessary extra step that’s putting off travellers and putting our country on the back foot.
• Drop the 1.5 times the median wage requirement for skilled workers entering New Zealand on visas. Having to pay a worker at least $40 an hour instead of $27 is completely unaffordable, especially for the likes of the primary sector who are crying out for workers.
The priority needs to shift away from attracting only the so called “high value” tourists. Perceived “low value” visitors on work visas will greet and serve our “high value” tourists, pick our Kiwifruit, pour our beers and build our houses if the immigration settings are right. They’ve been key to our economy in the past, so why are they not seen as an important part of our future?
The government needs to start trusting the private sector. We are a nation that has a serious productivity issue and labour shortage – why not enlist the help of businesspeople that live and breathe productivity and who are motivated to achieve it. We all have New Zealand’s best interests at heart.
Let’s work smarter, reconnect New Zealand with the world and rebuild to be a better nation than before.