New Zealand needs 36,000 additional tourism workers to meet demand. In Auckland, 16,000 extra are needed by 2025 – that’s a 27 percent increase on today’s workforce. There are 90 cranes across the city’s skyline at the moment, and the vast majority are related to hospitality projects – including the International Convention Centre, which will need a significant workforce.

In a campaign that’s been in development for nearly a year, the Auckland Council’s tourism and economic development arm, ATEED, has produced a website that aims to match young people with potential employers. The ‘Go With Tourism’ campaign also includes publicity across other platforms and has been whole-heartedly embraced by the city’s hospitality companies, with more than 100 signed up before the official launch. ATEED says it turns out they’d been crying out for such a development.

Basically it’s Tinder for tourism jobs. Kids can sign up, take a quiz to see where their interests might lie, and build themselves a profile. Employers go hunting for workers. If a young person isn’t being picked up they can get help at a skills hub to build their résumé and market themselves.

Mason Carr could be an ad for the tourism industry – and now he is. The 23-year-old Aucklander and qualified bungy jump master is one of the seven young people signed up to help push the message that tourism is a viable, and enjoyable career option.

He was the sporty, skateboarding, surfie kid (“and a little bit the class clown as well”) at Maclean’s College in Buckland’s Beach. He didn’t really know what he was going to do with his future, but his mum guided him towards a course in Queenstown. (“What a place to study, you get to live … and party… it’s really cool!”)

Ironically he’s never been a fan of heights, and on his first taste of adventure tourism study he was too terrified to take the opportunity to bungy. But he thought it “was pretty cool, with those guys, sitting on the edge, chucking people off kind of thing”. Then he had to do a jump on a familiarisation tour as part of the Queenstown Resort College’s 18 month Diploma of Adventure Tourism Management.

“The feeling I got from doing something I didn’t want to do was unreal, and I just wanted to help other people with that. It’s rewarding to say the least … just being able to push myself to that limit was something I wanted to do more of.”

Something he wasn’t expecting to be interested in was the business part of his diploma, which has made him realise there is a different path for him when he wants it. “Schooling – maths in particular – was not my strong suit. Funny because I use maths every day when I’m jumping people.” The business papers have helped him think about his future more, but for now he wants to stay in the industry.

Working for AJ Hackett Bungy also means he can transfer to the company’s other operations internationally, which is a big hook for many employees.

Carr says he really doesn’t feel like he’s working, as he puts adventurers through their paces under the Harbour Bridge.

“You get a buzz, feeding off what your customers are doing … being able to talk to these people from all over the world. They are in the middle of this journey and you’re part of that …. this amazing experience they’re having in New Zealand.” Carr reckons it’s as addictive as the jumping.

Auckland’s boom year

The seed of the Go With Tourism campaign was research that revealed the negative perceptions stopping young people thinking about the sector for a career. One of those perceptions is low pay, which is why ATEED has asked employers signing up to work towards introducing the living wage. The organisation’s General Manager –Destination, Steve Armitage, says that’s a bottom line for ATEED and it’s pleased with the commitment it has received from those companies signing up.

“Our wage offering is not where it could and should be, and that’s probably part of the reason why we’ve struggled to attract some of the talent.” Armitage says the perception that tourism is not a long-term career also needs to take a hit, which is what this campaign is also about. The problem is urgent.

“We just don’t have enough talent coming in to fill the skills shortages coming in at the moment, and particularly if you look out to what the projections are telling us we’re going to be attracting in terms of visitor numbers.”

In 2021, New Zealand tourism expects a blockbuster year, with Auckland hosting the 36th America’s Cup, APEC, the women’s Rugby World Cup and the World Softball Champs. “The world will be watching us very, very closely in 2021, and the visitor experience needs to match the expectation. We are running out of time before we see boats out on the water contesting the Christmas cup at the end of next year.

“We had to do something meaningful to try to shift perceptions of young people about what a career in tourism looks like,” he says.

Armitage says the construction industry is more generally understood. “The problem we have from the tourism perspective is that young people don’t look beyond the front-of-house roles. Yes, those jobs might provide an entry point but beyond that there is actually good career progression.” The campaign aims to create a stronger sense of what such a career might look like.

Armitage says our scenery might draw tourists here, but “what most people talk about when they leave the country is the people. We aim to play to that strength. We need to be dialling up the importance of that manaakitanga (unique New Zealand hospitality) that they have when they’re travelling here”.

ATEED says it knows a campaign won’t solve it all, and further advocacy work will be essential. That will include discussion with central government about how tourism can be better recognised in the school curriculum and reflected in policy. “It does need to be recognised as a viable career path,” says Armitage.

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