Monitor Economics Q&A: Grant Webster, Managing Director of Tourism Holdings


Every week Thing asks New Zealand business and community leaders how they think the economy is doing and what they think are the biggest challenges.

Tourism Holdings Managing Director Grant Webster has held the position since 2008. He is also Vice Chairman of the Aotearoa Tourism Industry Board of Directors, which is part of the Government Responsible Camping Task Force, and was co-chair of the government task force on the future of tourism last year.

Tourism Holdings reported its first annual loss in 10 years last year and says it will likely record another loss this year as Covid-19 travel restrictions have hurt its motorhome business.

Webster says we have to live with Covid-19.

He says the rest of the world thinks and acts in a way that feels like a foreign language here. They are open, positive, responsive and they have “a new normal”.

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How do you think New Zealand’s economy is doing right now?

I am neither an economist nor a medium. What is even more difficult is that I am writing this from level 4 in Tamaki Makaurau, Auckland, which is bound to influence your way of seeing the world. From a purely monetary point of view, I have the impression that the economy is doing well. Work rates are increasing which is positive, jobs are available everywhere and we live in a great country that keeps people positive. After this current lockdown I’m a lot more nervous – I feel like it’s going to be a lot harder to bounce back like we’ve seen in 2020. As a country we will start to really miss out on foreign currency earned with international and business visitors this summer. I cannot say that tourism is doing well, but it is obvious. The pressure on small businesses cannot be underestimated.

Tourism Holdings chief executive Grant Webster estimates that a vaccination rate of 95% or more is

Phil Doyle / Tips

Tourism Holdings chief executive Grant Webster says a vaccination rate of 95% or more is “very achievable” in New Zealand.

What are you most concerned about at the moment?

Immunization rates are clearly the hot topic, and for good reason. How we open our minds enough to find the most effective ways to reach those who have some form of barrier to immunization is vital. It means listening and doing what people in the most affected communities say needs to happen. Not what people like me think, a middle aged white business executive.

When I talk to our team and our industry colleagues in the US it’s different, they deal with deep philosophical issues, we seem to have more of an access and engagement issue. However, on the positive side, I strongly believe that a vaccination rate of 95% or more is quite achievable in New Zealand if we ignore politics and bureaucratic processes and just do it. .

Until we see the highest possible rate, we will continue to impact too many lives and expand equality issues in New Zealand.

Additionally, labor shortages, businesses not adapting quickly enough (in so many areas), mental health, and our inability to act strategically enough as a country constantly challenge me.

From a tourism perspective, it is essential that we really understand clearly as a country what the property looks like. I firmly believe that the oft-discussed “problems” of the past are all manageable. We have the people, the technology and the desire to set a new framework and a new standard, we need a bold system change in local and central government to make it happen.

What did the last year teach us about the New Zealand economy?

Our resilience is surprising, our fundamental competitive advantage of being small is clearly evident. A very specific lesson I learned is the importance of air connectivity with the rest of the world for the economy at large, beyond tourism. I recently heard a statistic that a 787 Dreamliner in a normal year would contribute about $ 157 million in passengers, but about $ 509 million in freight. Our imports and exports are imperative, and air capacity is a key factor. We need to open up to keep those connections alive.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the economy this year? Why?

By nature, I tend to be more optimistic (at least I tell myself). As stated, I’m nervous about Aotearoa in 2022. When I look at the companies I’m engaged with around the world, I’m even more worried. The rest of the world thinks and acts in a way that is like a foreign language here today. They are open, positive, responsive and as cliché as it is, they have a new normal, but in saying this, government comments over the past few days indicate that we may have started to move in that direction which would be a very positive step.

We need to live with Covid-19, we need to be open to smart immigration, we need to change the systems of operation, and we need to only support businesses on a transitional basis today. Provide loans, support small businesses, and ensure these essential businesses like hospitality exist in 2022 and beyond.

What’s the biggest challenge New Zealand faces?

Stay true to ourselves and to the values ​​that made Aotearoa, for as long as we can. Look at the destruction of political, economic and social structures in other parts of the world. We’ve pushed back most of these issues over the past decade, but it’s setting in. We are in crisis, and I see time and time again that the politics and processes in Wellington hamper smart, well-meaning people who want to do the right thing effectively.

– The Monitor is Stuff’s unique set of information to help the business community better understand the economic landscape and maximize their success. Next to the quarterly snapshot is a economic index showing the speed of growth in different parts of the economy.