And so it will be for those of us who can’t wait to meet a friend for a coffee or a group of mates for a Friday night beer. We’ll be there next week with more enthusiasm than we’ve had since the last lockdown ended.
Just look at the rugby stadiums in the aftermath of the level 4 restrictions a few weeks ago. Full stadiums most weeks. The reason? When you can’t do something you love, you want it even more.
And so it is with travel. The surge in flight bookings from Auckland to Queenstown in the last few days supports the theory. We can’t wait to get back to travelling. If we can’t go overseas, there’s plenty for us to do here. And when we can go overseas, we’ll go for it.
And so will those overseas visitors we have come to rely on for our economic growth. They’ll not only be back. But once international travel restrictions are lifted, they will be back quickly and with a new-found enthusiasm for the opportunity to come here. When they do, they’ll be spending like never before.
We’re yet to see the impact of the global lockdown on the cost of travel. It might be more expensive. But the tourism industry will need to get us back on to planes and into hotels.
There are aircraft to be paid for and hotel leases that need to be funded. So I’m guessing they’ll make it affordable.
Of course, all of this means that our tourism operators, no matter how temporarily disabled, must somehow stay ready for when the time comes. Domestic tourism will enable the country to pay a few bills and keep vital services running. But when the internationals come back, we will need to have our tourism infrastructure ready to go.
That means that somehow, while operating at a fraction of what they’re used to, our tourism operators have to keep services available, capable people on standby and assets at the ready.
The rest of us Kiwis have a role to play in keeping an industry ready. Our domestic travel intentions are unlikely to match what millions of internationals can bring. But we can play a role in supporting those businesses that are trying to stay open.
The national airline is still flying and the motels are still open. You can still hire a car or a camper and explore our amazing landscape. It doesn’t matter if you’ve already seen every corner of the country. Get out and see it again.
Because you can’t go to Italy or Hawaii. But you can go to Wanaka or Mount Maunganui.
And when you do, look up the Kiwi moteliers who have their life savings on the line, rather than the Airbnb operator trying to make a buck out of their spare room. And local car rental firms like Jucy and Maui rather than the big internationals. Go out for a meal a couple of times, and if you can, leave a tip to help keep the business alive.
Domestic travel is not the only way we can help. There are plenty of us who work in situations that can make a difference too. To those responsible for the short-term government handouts. To the bankers with outstanding loans. The local authorities pushing urgent rates demands. We need to support these businesses while they wait for their market to return.
To those responsible for marketing New Zealand on the international stage, let’s get on with it now. Be proactive. The Aussies have already started advertising for tourists globally. We need to catch up. Get our name on the top of everyone’s list. When the time comes, we want people to come here and we want to be ready for them.
I know from the CEO’s email that these guys will do whatever they can to save their businesses. We need to do whatever we can too.
So give them a break. Cut them some slack. And keep the receivers away. Because one day our tourism industry and the businesses that make it possible will recover. And they will pay us, and our economy, back ten-fold.
This article first appeared in the New Zealand Herald on Saturday 29 August 2020.