By Hafsa Ahmed, Lecturer, Lincoln University

New Zealand’s biggest markets lie in Asia, from tourism to exports.

Before Covid hit, tourism was New Zealand’s biggest export earner and host to more than 400,000 jobs. As New Zealand’s borders remain closed, many tourism business owners face tough choices and the impact of closed borders varies from region to region, sector to sector, and business to business.

While sustainable tourism is the current narrative, two critical questions remain unanswered: First, could our tourism sector continue to survive without these international tourists? Second, when our borders open, would our biggest tourism markets – China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand – remember us?

The answers to both questions are intertwined. A recent report by Deloitte found that one of the critical attributes for any business to bounce back from unexpected challenges (being resilient) was remaining responsible towards stakeholders.

In the context of New Zealand tourism businesses, the most important group of stakeholders are the tourists from our biggest markets – China, India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. Statistics available from prior to Covid-19 confirm that Active Considerers (an individual considering to come to New Zealand for their next holiday) across just three Asian countries – China, India and Japan – equalled 57.1 million which is a significant size of stakeholders to disengage with.

The tourism sector understands this challenge and is keeping the markets engaged by encouraging future visitors to experience New Zealand through digital content. Another collaborative campaign with various government agencies “Messages from New Zealand” was launched in July 2020 to ensure New Zealand is not forgotten by overseas consumers and potential tourists.

This is a step behind compared to different campaigns launched by various other tourist destinations such as Greece, South Africa, Dubai, Grenada and others that have been made popular through trending hashtags on social media. Some have even taken these to next level by introducing live streams, panoramic views, virtual visits/tours of popular sites and allowing interactive aspirational vision boards.

Stakeholder engagement is about better understanding ‘to whom’ or ‘to what’ a business should pay attention but stakeholders in the New Zealand tourism sector are diverse and a ‘one size fits all’ approach is problematic.

The current campaigns are exactly that – they are not specific for the Asian markets. The best tactic to keep diverse stakeholder groups engaged is to change and tailor approaches for each of them. This is not unfeasible and can be achieved by answering three specific questions: who are they? what do they want? and how can we address what they need?

The answer to first question – who are they? –  could be obtained from an analysis of the Active Considerers group across three Asian countries for New Zealand – China, India and Japan – which confirms that the majority of them belong to the 25 to 50 years age bracket.

It’s important to think about who will be interested in coming to New Zealand once the borders open.

As many countries now begin to open borders and more citizens are vaccinated, a carefully crafted strategy would focus on capturing this stakeholder group and engaging with them to answer the second question – what do they want? Tourism operators in New Zealand need to increase their virtual presence and genuinely engage with Asian markets to determine what is they need.

However, to address the third question – how can we address what they need? – needs collaboration, not just across tourism industry operators, but with this key stakeholder group.

In a post-Covid world, it needs a design-thinking approach where deeper understanding of the stakeholder’s needs is essential and there is opportunity for innovative solutions.

As Einstein is often quoted saying ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge’. Therefore, keeping Asia engaged with 100% Pure New Zealand needs responsible engagement with stakeholders with imagination.

– Asia Media Centre