The tourism portfolio: if the minister isn’t doing his job, the remedy – surely – is to sack him

Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis was reported by Radio NZ as saying he will not challenge the Prime Minister’s decision not to appoint an associate minister.

Whether he said this because he is confident he can do the job without assistance or because he did not want to be publicly disagreeing with his boss is something we might muse on.

According to Radio NZ, Tourism Industry Aotearoa recently approached Jacinda Ardern saying the country’s largest export earner needs greater representation at the Cabinet table, but she turned down the request.

Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis said he supported the prime minister.

“We’re well aware of the interest from the tourism industry around having an associate minister but, you know, that’s a decision that the Prime Minister will make.

“We’ll wait and see what decisions she makes if and when there is a reshuffle.”

Tourism is the country’s largest export earner and was recently valued at $39.1 billion.

Radio NZ had reported some four weeks earlier that the TIA had approached the PM in November to argue that more representation is needed for the country’s largest export earner.

Ardern turned down the request.

In a letter given to RNZ, Ms Ardern said she understood the need to have ministerial representation at key sector events.

“To date, we have operated in a collaborative way where the Minister of Tourism has worked with his fellow Minister colleagues to ensure Ministerial representation at key events,” she said.

“I am happy with the approach we have undertaken to date.

“However, I will continue to keep your request in mind given tourism is a diverse industry with multiple events, forums and conferences across the country.”

Ms Ardern referenced the international visitor levy and the Tourism Infrastructure Fund as important work that had been undertaken by Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis.

TIA chief executive Chris Roberts said an associate minister would provide support to the Tourism Minister.

“I note the comment that ‘I will continue to keep your request in mind’,” Mr Roberts said.

“That will hopefully mean it is considered at the time the next ministerial reshuffle is contemplated, whenever that may be.”

There was nothing in those remarks to suggest the TIA has no confidence in the one Minister that does represent it at the Cabinet table.

National’s Tourism spokesperson Todd McClay has other ideas.

In a press statement today, he says the Prime Minister needs to listen to the tourism industry and appoint an Associate Minister for Tourism “to ensure the Government is doing all it can to support New Zealand’s biggest export earner”.  

More pointedly, he said:

“It is obvious that the sector doesn’t have confidence in the current minister and Jacinda Ardern should heed their calls. Tourism is too important to New Zealand to be assigned just a part-time minister juggling other portfolios.”

The economic importance of the industry may well justify the appointment of a Minister who can focus his or her energies on the sector’s wellbeing.

But are there other reasons?

According to McClay, tourists spend $107 million a day across New Zealand, or about $39 billion a year, and tourism directly and indirectly accounts for almost one in seven jobs. The record influx of visitors has put pressure on our tourism infrastructure like never before.

“The Government has chosen to ignore the pleas of the tourism industry that its size and importance warrants an associate to support Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis. Tourism is one of New Zealand’s growth engines – spending by tourists has surged 44 per cent in the past five years and the sector now makes up more than 10 per cent of the economy.

“Mr Davis promised millions of dollars towards fixing overcrowding and increased demand at our most popular destinations for summer yet many are again overwhelmed by visitors.

“The last National Government introduced the Tourism Infrastructure Fund and a $76 million package to alleviate pressure off our scenic hotspots for Kiwis. While so far the only suggestion from the Minister in the past year has been five new working groups.

“The Minister also promised that regions would see some of the funding generated from this Government’s Tourist tax. Yet the lack of prioritisation and action from the Minister means that regions will not see any funding till late 2020.

“While Mr Davis may think that a new tax on visitors, working groups and reviews is a substantial tourism strategy, the standstill in our scenic hotspots show that the regions are calling out for real leadership and a proper, detailed plan from this Government.”


McClay similarly told Radio NZ yesterday the industry’s request for an associate suggested Davis was not putting enough effort into the job.

“Previously John Key as prime minister was also the Minister of Tourism. He was very busy as prime minister yet he took the responsibility seriously,” Mr McClay said.

“It’s for Kelvin Davis as Tourism Minister to decide himself whether he’s putting enough effort into the job, I guess the tourism sector is telling the prime minister they don’t think he is.”

McClay said the request from the industry was “probably suggesting that they don’t believe [Mr Davis] has their back and they don’t have confidence in him.”

Well, as the Opposition’s tourism spokesman on tourism, he would say that, wouldn’t he?

But it’s one thing to support the industry’s call for the appointment of an associate minister because of the sector’s economic significance.

It’s another to say this appointment is required because the minister is not doing his job.

If that be so, the call should be to sack the minister and appoint someone who can do it.