Closed borders open eyes and minds to old ways and new possibilities

Blog | 2020-12-01 | By: Digital Council for Aotearoa New Zealand
Old brown tram with gold writing saying "Invercargill Trams" crosses an intersection with people looking out of the tram windows.
Source: Big Stock/RuslanKphoto

As the Digital Council, you would probably expect us to be promoting the rapid uptake of new innovations and inventions that help make things easier, quicker and, for some, possible. So you might be surprised to hear us endorsing some old fashioned phone calling, emailing and direct website booking for your next holiday. That is, if you have the time and want your dollars to stay local.

Digital technologies are tools to be used for mutual benefit. The greatest benefit to our local tourism businesses right now (and in the future) is keeping as much money in their pockets, and therefore in our communities, as possible. That means booking with them directly where you can, rather than through online travel agencies that are not New Zealand-owned.

Our eyes are wide open

Being proponents of digital possibility does not mean being blinkered. Our eyes are wide open to the ways technology can also cause harm, exclude, disenfranchise and generate mistrust.

Our eyes were opened again in our town hall last week with representatives supporting those who rely on visitors and tourists. These are largely (75%) small businesses embedded in communities. They shape experiences and memories through sharing their local spaces, places, produce and people with those of us from out of town.

So it makes no sense to us that the benefits of those relationships not only leave town, but leave the country. We’ve heard various reports of 75–90% of bookings now being done online. Online travel agencies take anything from 15–25% of a booking in fees. And a true eye opener for us, to our knowledge there are no New Zealand owned online travel agencies (they may have “.co.nz” in their URL, but have been bought out by overseas agencies). That 15–25% fee all goes offshore.

This is a significant concern for small businesses, for local communities that service and are served by those businesses, and for an economy trying to recover.

Closed borders and opened minds

So, with the borders closed, we heard from town hall participants that it’s time to open our minds once more to challenging the big conglomerates and controlling our own digital destiny. How can we build and take command of our own digital booking platforms — and not get gazumped by the big overseas conglomerates? How can we own our own data, the stories that data tells us (our stories), and the decisions it guides?

To have our own platforms and our own data sets, we need to build the skills of those small operators who are over-reliant on the conglomerates who make things easier for them. This is where programmes such as Qualmark’s Digital Capability Programme, MBIE’s Digital Boost, and DIA’s Digital Skills for SMEs are vital. Running your own website, choosing the right booking platform, what to look for, how to adapt, what’s good, what’s not? These are big decisions for small business owners in a highly uncertain and stressful environment. They are looking to the government and the industry to help make it easier for them to have control over their own digital presence. To move away from the big offshore conglomerates.

We know this discussion is not new. We are aware of numerous attempts (by Trade Me, Air NZ and IBIS) to set up Kiwi-owned booking platforms in the past that did not fly. Perhaps now the time and the conditions are right…

Open connections

The conditions are also right to put our minds to what is needed digitally when the borders do re-open. That is, strong, country-wide connectivity.

Digital does not end when the dreaming, planning and booking are done by travellers. Once here, good connectivity on the back roads of Aotearoa provides a safety net if someone gets into trouble and needs help. Good connectivity (and owning our own data) helps us to make reliable forecasts, and plan sustainably. Good connectivity encourages people out of the main cities into the regions. Good connectivity means they’ll hang around longer to take photos, make videos and show their friends and family what they are missing.

Aoraki Mt Cook and ranges in the background against a cloudy sky with ice blue Lake Pukaki and green pine trees in the foreground.
Aoraki Mount Cook and Pukaki Lake. Source: Big Stock/ DmitryP

And many across the world do know what they are missing. New Zealand has a strong brand overseas. COVID has made it even stronger. While marketing New Zealand to New Zealanders and overseas, there’s another marketing solution worth investing in — the benefit of booking direct. Not just for these summer holidays, but well beyond. The real experience of Kiwi hospitality should not start only when you get somewhere — it should start the moment you think about us and look us up!

 

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ACTIVITY SUMMARY

  • A huge thanks to those who gave us feedback on our draft report into Trust and ADM. We’ve incorporated this into the final document which is now going through an internal review before being sent to the Minister in December. We are also looking forward to the feedback we receive from the Data Ethics Advisory Group (DEAG) who will be reviewing the report at their next meeting.
  • As mentioned above, last week we held a very informative town hall session with a number of representatives from the tourism sector to understand the issues and opportunities they see following Covid-19. This work is linked to the advice we are developing on Digital Marketplaces and eCommerce.
  • This week our Chair, Mitchell Pham will be part of a panel speaking to the Auckland Trade and Economic Policy School about the current trade environment. He’ll talk about the need for more NZ-owned e-Commerce platforms and digital marketplaces, and digital adoption needed in the supply chain and logistics sector.