Tourism the new star

The booming tourism industry, expected to overtake dairy as New Zealand's biggest export earner this year, means not all is ''doom and gloom'' in the New Zealand economy.

However, there was room for local tourism organisations to work together and collaborate better, Associate Tourism Minister Paula Bennett said yesterday at the Tourism Export Council conference in Dunedin.

She said it was ''a bit of a shame'' the industry's move to No1 was at the expense of the dairy industry, which has suffered from a global slump in commodity prices.

The tourism industry was facing some issues, including how to cater for the numbers arriving and how to fill jobs in the sector, but the alternative scenario, not having enough tourists, would be ''a bit stink''.

Ms Bennett released figures showing visitors to the Otago region topped 1.4million in the year to March, the highest figure recorded.

Those guests, she said, spent more than $1.3billion.

But she said there was still plenty to do, and used an example of the trip from Dunedin to Queenstown, which passed through four local government areas: Dunedin, Clutha, Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes.

''I do think we need to look at a little bit more of a regional economic growth.

''Part of that is tourism.

She suggested councils, which were in charge of regional tourism organisations, could go beyond collaboration to ''literally looking at our structures around that''.

''Is there a bigger council controlled organisation that would be better suited at looking at the region overall?

''We're looking at that at the moment.''

Ms Bennett said she was ''really impressed'' with Enterprise Dunedin, which took over from Tourism Dunedin and brought tourism back within the Dunedin City Council's economic development area.

''You know where you're heading, you know what the barriers are to success.

''I'd just like to see a bit more of that throughout the country.''

Ms Bennett said she did not plan to ''go out there and impose something'' on local government, but she had asked the Local Government Commission to prioritise the work.

The commission was coming up with options that might work for different areas, and the Government would provide legal and financial advice for any change.

The Government was also looking at the issue of filling thousands of new jobs in Otago, with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment in May predicting a 46% rise in tourism jobs in the region in the next decade.

Ms Bennett said the Government's philosophy was ''New Zealanders first'', and the government and industry needed to think about career paths to get people into the industry.

david.loughrey@odt.co.nz

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