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Foreigners still needed to cover tourism workforce shortfall, Bennett says

Monday 20th June 2016

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New Zealand's tourism sector still needs foreigners to cover a gap in the workforce as government and industry look at ways to attract visitors off-peak to create more certainty for full-time jobs and generate local career pathways, says Associate Tourism Minister Paula Bennett. 

The government estimates New Zealand needs an extra 36,000 workers to meet a record number of tourists that's forecast to keep expanding, and until new pathways are developed that shortfall will have to be filled by overseas staff. Bennett told Parliament's commerce select committee the government and Tourism Industry Association are working on a number of initiatives to make up that shortfall, including luring travellers to come outside the peak period and training initiatives. 

"It is going to have to be supplemented by an overseas workforce that is here on working visas - we've always had that working visa, and without a doubt we're still going to be needing that," Bennett said. "What we need to be doing is having those operators being able to employ people full time."

Government figures show New Zealand's tourism sector employed 168,000 as at March 31, 2015, or 6.9 percent of the nation's working population. That was up from 159,600, or 6.8 percent, a year earlier. 

Bennett said most tourism operators would prefer to hire New Zealanders, but the seasonal effects meant it was difficult to offer full-time hours. She was interested in the outcome of a project in Queenstown where an operator was looking to send staff to different places in an effort to over them at least 30 hours a week. Work was also being done to look at high-value career pathways in secondary and tertiary education. 

Tourism New Zealand chief executive Kevin Bowler said efforts to attract professionals and families from India had been increasingly successful, and would go some way to boosting numbers in the shoulder of the tourism season, with those visitors keen to travel during Autumn and Spring. 

When asked about the shortage of worker accommodation in Queenstown, Bennett, who is also Social Housing Minister, said that wasn't an area "the government would choose to invest money in right now", and that the local business community was better resourced to plug the gap. 

Workers typically wanted to live in central Queenstown, but Bennett said there were options for new housing developments on the way to Cromwell. 

"There's a range of options available to them," she said.

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