Stewart Island as a playground for the rich and famous? Covid-free card-carrying tourists? Here are four plausible scenarios of what tourism in New Zealand could look like in 2025.

New Zealand tourism, like the rest of the world, is currently in severe crisis as a result of the Covid-19 global pandemic and the lockdowns across the globe.

Economies have come to a grinding halt, with tourism in its wake. Although New Zealand is now at Level 2, many restrictions are in place that have wiped out the events industry and curtailed all international travel, both inbound and outbound. Queenstown is a ghost town, Air New Zealand’s revenues have dramatically fallen and an avalanche of redundancies are unfolding.

But there is hope and a robust domestic tourism industry gives us a platform to build. We even have a trans-Tasman bubble on the horizon.

However, Covid-19 is not going to go away and a second wave may happen. As we open up, we could easily close down. Just look what has happened in Germany and South Korea as they eased restrictions.

The questions are how long the virus will remain among us and how long the crisis will last. This situation creates fear and uncertainty, especially because there is no clear future perspective of the impact on tourism and travel. Most solutions being presented aim to recover the industry in the short term.

Dr Ian Yeoman of Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Management, in collaboration with the CELTH, the Dutch Center of Expertise for Leisure, Tourism & Hospitality and the European Tourism Futures Institute (ETFI), has created a number of scenarios that ponder the future of New Zealand tourism. The scenarios draw on work at ETFT–Professor Albert Postma’s global visitor economy framework and Dr Stefan Hartman’s destination resilience strategy.

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, the experts at CELTH have scanned the media to identify relevant variables that may impact the future of the visitor economy. An analysis of the outcomes led to a shortlist of forces that drive the future of tourism and travel in the medium term to 2025.

Each scenario raises several questions about the future. As Hartman observes, this is about the length and depth of the crisis and the moral dilemmas of tourists and tourism.

These forces frame four explorative scenarios, all taking their name from a movie. These imaginative scenarios outline possible futures for New Zealand in 2025.

Crazy Rich Asians: Recovery

We imagine a future where we just want to get back to normal. Tourism New Zealand’s marketing campaign says ‘Live More, Fear Less’. This scenario presumes Covid-19 has been eliminated and contained across the world. “It just sort of went away” as US President Donald Trump tweeted. Global tourism has rebounded quickly, evident by wealthy tourists – many from buoyant Asian markets – returning to New Zealand in hordes to spend, spend, spend. We see unrestrained behaviour in Queenstown as the party central. Over-tourism has re-emerged in hotspots such as the Church of the Good Shepherd and mass tourism seems to be the new norm. In the drive for recovery, sustainable tourism guidelines were suspended. This meant imported moose from Canada are again roaming in Southland. Big game shooting is a high-yield tourism activity.

Contagion: Survival of the Fittest

Covid-19 has spread throughout the world, no one has escaped. Like the common cold, there was no vaccine. Globally, social disorder prevails. We now live in a world where tourism as we know it has disappeared, although a few of the super-rich have descended on Stewart Island – now a gated community of the privileged class. Across the world, protectionism prevails and New Zealand is a third world country according to OECD indicators. Social deprivation is everywhere. Tourism is only for the elite in society and those tourists can be spotted in eco-resorts such as Eagles Nest and on Kiwi safaris. It resembles apartheid in South Africa, the economic and class divide has never been so great.

The Colony: Gated Communities

Covid‐19 is a permanent feature but governments step in to manage it with regulation. Our borders have closed, then opened again as waves appear and disappear. We live in a world that is not back to normal, but we can operate in a relatively safe environment. Generally, we are more risk-averse. From a tourism perspective, the middle classes have been squeezed so tourism is less than what it was before. We do have Australian tourists who are in our bubble and international tourists who carry a WHO certificate as Covid-19 free. Track and trace is the norm as Google is now working with the government so they know where you are and what you are doing. Tourism New Zealand’s marketing campaign ‘Cocoon in New Zealand’ struck a chord. We are a safe place to holiday, relatively speaking.

This Side of Paradise: ReThinking Tourism

Covid-19 has changed the world and tourism has changed too. We are more altruistic and take a collective approach to collective well-being and towards others in society. It seems as if tourism has grown to be the solution for New Zealand’s problems. Tourism is right at the heart of our communities with the balance between residents, business, and tourists just about right. We are the ‘EcoParadise’ according United Nations World Tourism Organisation. As a consequence of the pandemic and the 100% Pure New Zealand Climate Change and Sustainable Tourism Act of 2021, the country enacted a whole series of changes within the industry beginning with a certified green hotel scheme in which every hotel in New Zealand is graded from a sustainability perspective. Stewart Island was the first community in the country to abandon the petrol combustion engine, with all transport being either hydrogen cells or electric. All of Air New Zealand’s domestic schedule is on course to be electric planes by 2030, thanks to an accelerated research, design and build programme with Airbus. Our conservation credentials are the best.

Each out of the four scenarios provides a plausible picture of what tourism in New Zealand would look like in 2025. As the scenarios are explorative, they do not state or predict what will happen but explore a range of possibilities.

To understand more, Victoria University of Wellington and the European Tourism Futures Institute is hosting a webinar on Wednesday, June3 at 8.30-9.30am. Further details are here.

Associate Professor Ian Yeoman is an expert in tourism futures and is based at Wellington School of Business and Government. He is a visiting professor at the European Tourism Futures Institute in the Netherlands

Professor Albert Postma is a professor in Scenario Planning at NHL Stenden University and leads a team of future researcher at the European Tourism Futures Institute.

Dr Stefan Hartman is an expert in destination resilience and is Head of Department at the European Tourism Futures Institute.

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