Opinion: New Zealand is globally renowned for being an excellent tourist destination, due in no small part to the dedicated people working in our tourism industry.

To maintain this excellence, New Zealand needs to engage in continual development of its tourism workforce.

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The opportunities available in the tourism industry need to be highlighted for the workforce to move forward. The impending closure of the nationwide Go with Tourism programme is a step in the wrong direction.

New Zealand has struggled with negative perceptions of tourism careers for a significant period of time. An Angus & Associates report in 2018 on “Young People’s Perceptions of Careers in the Tourism Industry”, found that young New Zealanders perceive tourism as a “bum” subject.

But, before Covid-19, tourism was New Zealand’s biggest export industry.

Though progress has been made by the industry since then to combat these views, there is still a need to improve perceptions of tourism education and careers.

In 2019, Go with Tourism was formed by Tātaki Auckland Unlimited, the legacy organisation of Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development.

Go with Tourism did significant work with employees, businesses, students, and educators to help promote career paths and challenge negative perceptions of the tourism industry.

In 2021, it was announced that tourism was an achievement standard and university entrance subject that would be brought back in 2023 for NCEA Levels 2 and 3, almost eight years after it was removed

It also hosted a platform to connect job seekers with employers and provided resources for teachers and students, along with many other tools aimed to strengthen the tourism workforce.

Go with Tourism attended career expos and organised a Tourism Workforce Wānanga in 2021 that brought together stakeholders from across the tourism industry to address key workforce challenges.

In April 2019, the Government announced the initiative would receive $5.2 million from the International Visitor and Conservation Levy to expand the programme nationwide.

In October 2022, the programme was awarded an additional $2m from the levy to continue its work.

In February 2023 I completed my own research for my master’s dissertation to investigate perceptions of working conditions and careers in New Zealand’s tourism industry.

The research aimed to find out what employers, employees, educators, students, and young people aged 18-24 thought about careers in tourism post-Covid-19.

It also aimed to understand what good tourism working conditions should look like, and what this would mean for future workforce development in tourism.

It was evident to me that education and training were essential in challenging negative perceptions of tourism as a career and overall working conditions.

The research found that tourism was seen as a subject of study that is improving, but one that is still considered a filler subject and less ‘academic’.

Many interviewees highlighted the need for better understanding and messaging of the opportunities available in tourism.

One participant said there “definitely is a negative perception of tourism work and careers, which I believe is due to schools actively discouraging people to study tourism or hospitality”.

Participants’ perceptions of working conditions touched on areas of working hours, job security, recognition, and pay.

Pay was a highly discussed topic, with one participant stating, “public perception of low paying is not the reality, but due to the media’s influence”.

I believe Go with Tourism was helping to increase positive awareness of tourism in New Zealand.

Over the past four years, Go with Tourism visited 324 schools across New Zealand and developed regional resource packs to help assist teachers of tourism at a high school level. The packs included services from Go with Tourism and industry operators with contacts and information for teachers to use.

There have also been other significant improvements in the past two years.

In 2021, it was announced that tourism was an achievement standard and university entrance subject that would be brought back in 2023 for NCEA Levels 2 and 3, almost eight years after it was removed.

In March 2023, with input from the tourism industry, unions and workers, government and Māori, the Better Work Action Plan was released by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to help build a better tourism workforce, with Go with Tourism listed as a key part of some initiatives in the plan.

However, five months later, it was announced that Go with Tourism was unsuccessful in securing funding and would close in October.

This is disappointing, considering the services of Go with Tourism are needed more than ever to help the industry rebuild.

Wouldn’t it make sense to continue the work it does, particularly because the plan was only recently released?

There is much that still needs to be done. But who is going to action the initiatives in the Better Work Action plan?

The Government should consider funding a similar platform or relaunching it in whatever form is appropriate.

Having a funding system in place at least for the timeframes within the Better Work Action plan seems like a no-brainer.

We need better messaging and information about what tourism education and careers look like in New Zealand.

This is especially important for parents and career advisers. A step towards improving this would be to update the tourism section of the Careers New Zealand website.

We should at least incorporate the extensive resources from Go with Tourism into this resource.

We also need graduate programmes to be introduced, to showcase career pathways and opportunities for school leavers and university graduates.

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