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Fostering a sustainable tourism workforce

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The boom in post-Covid travel shows people’s love of exploring new places, dinners out, attending events and enjoying tourism experiences is as strong as ever.

That’s positive for our economy, communities and businesses in our region, but it also poses a challenge for a tourism workforce that’s already under significant pressure.

We regularly hear from Waikato tourism and hospitality businesses that are grappling with staffing shortages and finding it difficult to recruit and retain staff. Low unemployment and wage competition from other sectors mean tourism and hospitality can no longer rely solely on their reputation of being ‘fun’ industries to work in to attract staff.

There are a number of high-profile initiatives underway nationally to help resolve tourism industry challenges, including the Government led Tourism Industry Transformation Plan.

The first phase of that plan aims to create the foundations for a future-proofed workforce, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment has released a Better Work Action Plan to outline a way forward for the industry.

The plan identifies four systemic challenges: ‘demand fluctuations’, ‘pay and conditions’, ‘firm maturity and scale’, and ‘the current and future skills gap’. It champions the need for a new approach and identifies six Tirohanga Hou – new ways of viewing or thinking.

These Tirohanga Hou include recognising quality employers and improving employment standards and practices, as well as efforts to create fit-for-purpose education and training. They also include a push for the industry to embrace and cater for seasonality, implement initiatives to improve cultural competency and ensure authentic storytelling, and lift technology uptake and innovation. Lastly, and importantly, the plan advocates for efforts to showcase the great pathways and people in tourism.

Having a national action plan is helpful and Hamilton & Waikato Tourism is actively supporting it in our region.

We know tourism is exciting and will always attract those who love people, but showcasing opportunities for career progression will be critical to keep people working in tourism for the long haul. Over and above guiding and front of house positions, there’s immense scope to move into roles such as accountants, drivers, marketers, chefs, HR managers, event organisers and data analysts, to name a few.

In recent months we’ve stepped up our work with education providers to provide presentations for students studying tourism-related courses. We’re also supporting students with work experience placements with tourism operators around our region, as well as in the Hamilton & Waikato Tourism office working alongside our team.

Just recently we supported the national Go With Tourism by joining members of their team at the Waikato Careers Expo to educate teachers, parents and students about tourism as a career pathway. The key message here was that tourism offers a fulfilling life-long career, with a clear pathway to progression. And yes, it’s still a fun industry to work in.

When it comes to employment standards and practises, advocacy is important. We have been seeking out and showcasing stories of operators who are exceptional in this area, and whose pay rates are more than competitive with those found in other industries.

We’ve also got an active Ambassadorship programme in Waikato providing workshops for people who engage with international and domestic manuhiri to our region. This programme provides knowledge about local stories of people and place and assists with cultural competency and authentic storytelling. It also shares customer service tips and advice.

These initiatives are critically important for the future of our industry, but they are just a start. We’re conscious there’s a need for support attracting people to the industry now, in the lead-up to the busy summer months, so we need immediate results as well as long term thinking.

We look forward to engaging with industry, iwi and government to explore more opportunities to put the Better Work Action Plan into practise and to showcase why tourism continues to be one of the most vibrant, exciting and fulfilling career choices anyone can make.

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About Author

Nicola Greenwell

Interim General Manager, Hamilton & Waikato Tourism