Brian Westwood was GM, marketing & sales at YHA (Youth Hostel Association) New Zealand and up to last year had been with the organisation for nearly 9 years. That all came to end on 15th of December 2021 when it became crystal clear to executives in the 89 year old organisation, that the ongoing lockdowns and closed border meant they were not going to get another summer, and they permanently closed the 11 properties owned by YHA NZ (The association still has links with 23 other individually-owned hostels).
He was also Chairman of the Backpacker Youth and Adventure Tourism Association BYATA for over two and has extensive knowledge of the youth tourism/backpacker sector in New Zealand.
Westwood isn’t convinced that government and government agencies understand the value of business events, tourism and the back-packer market, but makes the confronting statement that “it’s not their problem – it’s ours, because we’re not communicating it properly enough”.
The average time for young people between conception to travel to New Zealand, to arrival into the country is around 9 months and most travellers arrive in August and September. This means that if visas are not supplied now and there is a further delay to opening up New Zealand’s borders, backpackers won’t arrive for at least another 20 months.
“We need to get out of our heads in terms of how important we are.” He says of New Zealand’s policy makers. Simply opening up again and expecting people to start visiting again isn’t a realistic expectation. He believes the country needs to start looking at ways to bring people back, such as building confidence to encourage people to travel to NZ again, and finding ways to get more direct flights into the country.
Westwood argues that tourism and business events groups should be looking at how to manage the inevitable increase in business when restrictions eventually lift, because if people have a bad experience, they won’t come again.
He makes the convincing argument that it’s time to put aside the differences between ourselves and government, draw a line under what’s gone before and work together to identify ways to get back to freedom in our personal and business lives. Westwood acknowledges that’s it’s easier said than done, but nonetheless something that needs to be attempted.