Covid 19 coronavirus: Bruce Cotterill – NZ must get ready for post-Covid world


You can’t help but wonder what people around the world might be thinking.

As they sit in their locked down towns and cities, staring at their overused TV screens, looking at the clear blue skies of a New Zealand summer and the spectacle of America’s Cup yachts sailing at roaring speeds across the Waitematā Harbour, they must be saying “wow”.

Many of them will also be saying “I want to go there”, or possibly even “I want to live there”.

Despite what you think of her politics, we have a Prime Minister who is internationally adored, and, aided by the distance that was once our nemesis, and a relatively sparse population, we have a better record of managing Covid-19 than almost any other country.

We are therefore living our lives in a manner that’s as close to the old normal as anyone, anywhere in the world.

That makes us attractive. And as I talk to my international friends and a few overseas-based Kiwis, I am hearing more and more that we are attracting attention.

According to the laws of economics, this is our time to strike. Strategically, the time is right for us to radically review both our immigration policies and our inbound tourism strategies.

Think about it for a moment. There is no doubt the immigration market will emerge from the global lockdown much different from what we once knew just a couple of short years ago, as disenfranchised citizens from countries ravaged by Covid look for alternative places to call home.

And, most importantly for our small country at the bottom of the world, demand for a change of scenery will be high. House-bound individuals, families and groups, with a desire for travel, will be eager to go somewhere.

As those people look around at their options, there might not be a lot of places they would like to go. Most of the obvious targets will have Covid challenges for plenty of time to come.

In other words, as parts of the world emerge from lockdown, we will see soaring demand for immigration options and travel opportunities.

And I wouldn’t mind betting that New Zealand will be at, or near, the top of the list of desired destinations.

They say that change creates opportunity. The current global challenges provide New Zealand with a unique moment in which to radically rethink our immigration and tourism strategies.

That means that we should be asking what sort of people we want to target. When demand exceeds supply, we can be more choosy.

We often talk about immigration. But I’m yet to hear a coherent conversation at a national level about the type of people we want to attract. Who are they? What are they looking for? What sort of immigration rules will give them what they want while giving us what we want from them? How do we target them? And how can we add value to our economy using the skills, talents and investment that they bring?

I’m suggesting we should be using our global profile to attract the right people who want to live here. Instead of attracting those who want to come here, buy a house and return to their homeland, we need to look for something different.

We don’t need any more taxi drivers with university degrees. We do need tradespeople. We need truck drivers. We need entrepreneurs with access to overseas markets. And we need investors. I’m sure there’s plenty of others, too. People who are prepared to bring their unique skills, networks or investment dollars here. And people who are prepared to be taxed in New Zealand on their substantial worldwide income.

Tourism offers the same opportunity. Just as it’s difficult to attract a more committed immigrant, there are plenty of challenges in adapting to the changing market in a manner that sees us attract a different and more profitable tourist.

However, irrespective of who they are, or why they come, we must first get ready to receive them. Our tourist infrastructure is adequate for the type of tourist we have historically attracted. But if we want to lift our sights, target more money spent per head, or attract working tourists who deliver a better level of skills or service, we need to be better.

I’m sure we must have plenty of tour buses, campervans and rental cars parked up somewhere and ready to go at a moment’s notice when the influx arrives. But the roadsthey will need to travel on are a mess.

I’ve tried my best to travel around New Zealand during the past year. And I have driven the length of the country twice in the past few months. Some of our tourist routes are in bad shape. We must have more orange road-cones per kilometre of roads than any other country in the world.

In theory that means work is happening. But as I travel I notice that most of the “coned off” highways have little, if anything, going on. I’ve recently travelled the same intercity highway five or six times, only to notice zero progress on a 1km stretch of road despite 2km of orange cones and four “50 Temporary” signs protecting the area that will one day get some attention.

Our wifi is fantastic – in the city areas that have benefited from the high-speed broadband rollouts. But elsewhere it is sad and slow. Our tourist destinations aren’t well connected. The worst wifi is at some of our tourist hotels. Guess what? In 2022 and beyond, tourists are going to expect wifi.

Our mobile coverage is intermittent at best in many areas. Don’t believe me? Try keeping your emails up to date and checking your Facebook feed on the road from the West Coast of the South Island.

Our customer service needs a tune-up, too. Sure, some of our tourism operators get it. The bus drivers who will take you to Doubtful Sound are fantastic. And there are moteliers in Alexandra and Christchurch who try so hard you feel like paying them more than they are asking.

But they’re the minority. By and large our customer service is poor. I don’t want to arrive at a restaurant and wait for 10 minutes before being offered a drink, and 20 minutes before it arrives.

I don’t want to stand in a store and be ignored while the store manager chats to her friend on the phone. And I don’t want to hire a rental car or a mountain bike that hasn’t been cleaned properly.

We are no longer in a position where people are going to come in and tolerate average service. With their new enthusiasm, our tourists will also have a new expectation of standards. If we are targeting a better tourist, we need to offer a better experience. We need to sell, and upsell.

We need to deliver experiences that are better than our visitors expected. That means saying please and thank you. It means rapid response to their queries and fair pricing for the experience we deliver. It means good roads to travel on and mobile connections that don’t fall over in the middle of a conversation.

I know it costs money. But we seem to be throwing plenty of that around at the moment. And if we do a good job, the people will keep coming, our margins will recover and it won’t take long. But in the first instance, we have to exceed every expectation.

One thing we can be sure of, is that the world will change again. And our markets will recover. And the people will come again. And when they do, we had better be ready.

Bruce Cotterill is a company director and adviser to business leaders. He is the author of the book, The Best Leaders Don’t Shout.

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