Embracing the peaks and troughs of tourism demand
There is an opportunity to reframe the tourism industry’s attitude and response to the peaks and troughs of tourism demand (seasons, weeks, and days). Rather than the peaks and troughs being perceived as a barrier to attracting and retaining employees, the industry can use peaks and troughs to its advantage to upskill people who work in the industry and provide consistent employment.
Creating a future where... Entities within tourism collaborate with each other, and with other industries, to embrace opportunities presented by peaks and troughs of consumer demand. This attracts people to work in the industry who find working across different roles, businesses and industries rewarding, as well as having the opportunity to upskill when demand is low.
In the tourism industry there is fluctuation in availability of work across seasons, weeks, and days. At a national level, the number of filled jobs in tourism-related industries was estimated to be higher in the summer than the winter. This included 13.9% higher in activity, travel and tour services, 8.6% higher in transport services, and 5.3% higher in accommodation and food and beverage services between winter in 2019 and summer in 2019-2020 . There are of course some regions that experiences their peaks in winter because of the ski industry. Many businesses work to major peaks in demand at the weekends and at times of day.
The peaks and troughs of tourism demand, and variances in workforce requirements, create a challenge for businesses hoping to maintain a stable workforce and offer consistent employment. Employees can become underutilised (or let go) when demand is low; and potentially over-worked when demand is high. These factors contribute to the perception (and actuality) of the workforce being a transient industry and not a viable career option.
There have been significant gains made over the last decade to smooth the seasonal peaks of tourism demand. However, it isn’t practical or desirable to eliminate seasonal demand - some roles will always be highly seasonal, and a healthy degree of staff turnover is important to ensure a flow of new ideas and experience into the local labour pool. Instead, there are opportunities to embrace the peaks and troughs of tourism demand.
This Tirohanga Hou doesn’t aim to further smooth the peaks or troughs in demand, but instead explores the opportunities presented by embracing seasonality. The industry can use seasonality to provide more consistent employment, through employee sharing, and upskilling and investing in the current tourism workforce. Leaning into seasonality will help to address some of the reasons prospective workers seek employment elsewhere.
We believe partnerships (both within the industry, and with other industries) are essential for employee sharing to be a successful model. This opportunity requires strong collaboration. Other initiatives (such as those emerging from the Regional Skills Leadership Groups and Jobs for Nature programmes) are also exploring the potential of a new way of managing staffing pressures by enabling partnerships between employers within, and between, industries experiencing complementary peaks and troughs in demand.
Below are four initiatives we think will help the tourism industry better manage, and benefit from, the peaks and troughs of demand.
- Complete a system analysis of structural barriers to participate in employee-sharing models. We have heard that while businesses are interested in employee-sharing models (where employees are shared between projects and/or businesses over seasons, months and/or days), structural barriers such as complexity of secondary taxation, and unclear understanding of Health and Safety obligations disincentivise or limit implementation. Through this systems analysis, we could explore if it is possible or appropriate to remove the barriers, bridge the communications gap, and help provide a viable way forward. Following the analysis, next steps could include supporting employers and employees to achieve effective employee sharing. This should be focused on solutions for both regions and cities.
- Build on the partnerships established and the lessons learned from employee-sharing through the Jobs for Nature programme as part of the COVID-19 response. Jobs for Nature  was designed to provide nature-based employment to communities and industries (such as tourism and hospitality) in response to COVID-19 (see the case study for a description of a project and its impacts). The conservation and environmental outcomes of the Jobs for Nature programme are well understood. But we have also heard there have been extensive positive economic and social impacts for people and communities. We propose commissioning an outcomes assessment which documents these outcomes in an area/s where tourism is a dominant industry. Pending findings of this assessment, there may be an opportunity to consider how to replicate this model of partnership between the tourism and conservation workforces on an ongoing basis.
- Support existing and emerging employee sharing programmes including funding and conducting outcome assessments to inform future design of employee-sharing models, such as how these pilots could be scaled up, replicated, and enabled to achieve systemic change.
- Design a seasonal upskilling programme, a learning and development framework to complement the seasonal nature of the industry. The training largely already exists – this programme is focused on the facilitation, nature, and timing of delivery. This could connect with the other Tirohanga Hou such as Building cultural competency and Fit for purpose education and training.
Case study: Jobs for nature in the glacier country
Jobs for Nature was designed to provide nature-based employment to communities and industries in response to the impact of COVID-19 in the tourism industry.
Jobs for Nature was a huge success in the Glacier Country through a strong partnership between Te Papa Atawhai (the Department of Conservation) and tourism businesses. The concept in this region was to provide employment for the tourism workforce, across a broad range of conservation-based tasks, with enough flexibility that people working in the industry can switch, as needed, to their main employer.
Since the programme began on 1 July 2020, 169 people have been involved and more than 64,000 hours of conservation work have been completed (up to 31 March 2022). The benefits of the programme have been widely felt. Participants in the programme were able to stay employed in their region, which mean community ties were maintained, and working outdoors had a positive impact on wellbeing. Through the conservation-based work, participants gain new knowledge and skills as well as a sense of satisfaction and pride which they then bring back into their core business role, improving the value and expertise they can share with visitors.
For businesses in the region, Jobs for Nature provided significant peace of mind in a turbulent time. Business owners and operators could confidently employ staff, knowing that they could rely on Jobs for Nature to guarantee a decent wage and hours for staff when demand for their tourism product was low.
Fox Glacier Guiding, one of the tourism businesses who participated in the Jobs for Nature programme, attributes many positive outcomes to Jobs for Nature: “Staff members, who have lived in the area for many years … were retained in Fox Glacier thanks to Jobs for Nature. In many ways, Jobs for Nature has saved the local community through ensuring people remain connected and have security of employment.” – Rob Jewell, CEO, Fox Glacier Guiding.
Rob also highlights that Jobs for Nature provided flexibility for his businesses to efficiently manage staffing levels, accounting for daily operational requirements, customer demand, and seasonality: “If a last-minute booking came through (which is usually how the domestic market operates), we could quickly swap a guide from Jobs for Nature work to guiding work to ensure we do not lose the sale. Flexibility of managing the workforce is one of the most important factors in Jobs for Nature’s success.”
While this case study was part of a government funded programme and in a COVID-19 context, the South Westland is exploring ways to develop an enduring model at pace.
What can we learn from this case study?
- Improving recruitment and retention opportunities by overcoming seasonality challenges through partnership.
- Improving local conservation knowledge and skills of tourism staff, and in turn improving the value and genuine story telling for visitors. This is a great example of regenerative tourism in practice and could be seen as building a regenerative tourism workforce.
- Exploring a new way of working in partnership not only between tourism businesses and Te Papa Atawhai, but also iwi, the local community, and other government departments.
2. Ministry for the Environment (2022, March 31), Mahi mo te Taiao – Jobs for Nature, Ministry for the Environment, https://environment.govt.nz/what-government-is-doing/areas-of-work/jobs-for-nature/.