The new associate tourism minister acknowledges there will be plenty of challenges ahead as he steps into the role.

Peeni Henare has been appointed Associate Tourism Minister as part of the Cabinet reshuffle announced on Thursday.

He is a former Labour tourism spokesperson, holding the role for a year from November 2014.

“In that time, I had the good fortune of meeting much of the sector, discussing through many of the issues. The announcement … gave me the opportunity to reconnect with them, so while I might be a couple of years out of practice, I’m hoping it’s like riding a bike and I can just hop right back on,” Henare said.

“I’m here to support my senior colleague Kelvin Davis and I look forward to doing that. I think it’s neat that we have two people in this position.”

His prior role did help him connect with the industry leaders, he said.

But tourism has changed significantly since then – it’s overtaken dairy as the country’s leading export earner, valued at a record $39.1 billion last year with predictions visitor numbers could hit 5.1 million arrivals by 2024.

Henare said it meant there would be plenty of challenges to tackle including how the sector can be equipped to be more sustainable and encourage more growth in the shoulder seasons.

“The flat-lining, if you like, of visitor numbers, it gives us the opportunity to push reset, to make sure we assess where we stand with the tourism sector and what are some of the infrastructure challenges that face them.”

The true value of regional tourism wasn’t fully realised yet, he said. “I hope we can come up with a strategy to make sure those shoulders season aren’t felt so acutely.”

But how would he measure success in the new role? “I think if we can continue to grow not just the tourism market, but brand New Zealand offshore to bring more of that market here that would be a success that we would be able to measure,” he said.

Significant growth in regional economies and industry confidence in the government would also be important markers, Henare said.

He was pleased to see Māori tourism taking more of a role in the industry.

“It’s actually been quite exciting to see that brand New Zealand isn’t just about our environment, but it’s about our culture.

“If we can go forward with that kind of marketing campaign or reputation, I think that this destination of Aotearoa New Zealand will be absolutely special for anyone and everyone who comes here.”

The tourism industry has welcomed the additional government support, saying it would be a boon for the sector.

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts said the industry was pleased  Henare would be able to offer additional support.

“We wrote to the Prime Minister asking for an associate because tourism is New Zealand’s biggest industry, there’s a lot of aspects to it and it’s a big workload for one minister alone so we’re very pleased that the Minister of Tourism now has an associate and the government can be right across all of the issues that tourism is dealing with by having two Ministers looking at it,” Roberts said.

“Tourism happens everywhere in the country and so there is a lot of things going on all the time so having another minister who can be a face for the government, can turn up, can engage with the industry, that’s going to be really, really helpful for the industry.”

Tourism was playing catch-up with infrastructure and other issues after years of rapid visitor growth, he said.

“But at the same time now because things have flattened off, attention’s also taking to where does the future growth come from and how do we manage that growth successfully. There’s a lot of issues to be tackling right now and it will be useful to have another minister within government turning their mind to these things.”

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