Embrace the flux, enable the flex

In the tourism industry, there is fluctuation in demand, and therefore of the availability of work, across seasons, weeks, and days [1]. The fluctuations of tourism demand and seasonal work can be beneficial and desirable for many (for example, students). However, there are benefits to growing the workforce, and more could be done to provide more consistent and stable employment, thereby retaining and attracting more people to work in the industry.

Seasonality creates a challenge for businesses looking to maintain a stable workforce and offer consistent employment as employees can be underutilised (or let go) when demand is low, and potentially over-worked when demand is high. These factors can contribute to the (perception of) the workforce being a transient industry and not a viable, long-term career option.

There have been significant gains made over the last decade to smooth the seasonal fluctuations of tourism demand. However, it is not practical to eliminate seasonal demand – some roles and businesses will always be highly seasonal, and a healthy degree of staff turnover is useful for a flow of new ideas and experience into the local labour pool.

Moreover, with trends in the future of work seeing people become more drawn to lifestyle over long hours, to flexibility over stability, and to opportunities to work while travelling, there could be untapped pools of labour that are well suited to the seasonal or weekend peak work offered by tourism and hospitality.

Public consultation revealed a wide range of perspectives on how seasonality is viewed and experienced between regions, and between businesses and employees within a region. Some regions, businesses, and employees take advantage of the current tourism demand fluctuations to make it work for their lifestyles. Some examples include:

  • a semi-retired boat operator who runs their business in the peak summer season, and in the off season hibernates their business;
  • a ski instructor who travels between New Zealand and Canada to work the complementary winter seasons; and,
  • a high-school student working in a restaurant over the summer holidays or picking up weekend shifts that working parents are unable to work.

This is not just a tourism issue; seasonality exists in other industries too. To respond to the flexibility and changes within and across industries, some regions are developing seasonal employment calendars to clearly depict the opportunities available in those regions.

This presents an opportunity to ‘embrace the flux and enable the flex’ of tourism demand. There is a spectrum of options that could support this approach to employment. These include:

  • self-management: people that independently seek and hold multiple jobs
  • partnership models: where the tourism business is the primary employer, but effectively contracts staff out during low-season or periods. This is how Jobs for Nature operates.

This Tirohanga Hou looks at exploring some of these options and the barriers to taking up these models.

Capturing the benefits of Jobs for Nature (J4N) in the future

The South Westland Tourism and Conservation project gave tourism employees nature-based roles. This included work to improve existing tracks and other recreation assets in Glacier Country. Given its impact on work for the tourism industry, the Better Work Leadership Group has commissioned an outcomes evaluation of this programme to assess its benefits. This particular J4N project was chosen for the assessment given it is specifically related to tourism. The key objective of the assessment is to understand whether, and how, this model of partnership between the tourism and conservation workforces could be replicated on an ongoing basis, with an emphasis on the social, human, and economic value to the communities using the Treasury Living Standards Framework.

Treasury Living Standards Framework(external link) — Te Tai Ōhanga, The Treasury 

Tourism-conservation employee-sharing pilot

The J4N programme is considering options to maintain the outcomes from the programme for the future. Subject to the findings of the South Westland Tourism and Conservation project evaluation, one opportunity is to run a tourism-specific employee-sharing pilot. This pilot would continue the collaboration between tourism and conservation employers, enabling employees to maintain stable employment, remain in regions with limited employment offerings, and support the wider community.

The pilot would be conducted in regions that have a strong tourism industry, but which also represent a diversity of economic and labour market conditions in order to test the adaptability of the model.

This has the potential to be a powerful example of regenerative tourism in practice and could be a step towards building a regenerative tourism workforce. It enables tourism employees to gain local conservation knowledge and skills, and those workers can then share their expertise and insights with visitors and increase the value of the tourism offering in the region.

Jobs for nature

Initiative 4 – Conduct a tourism-conservation employee-sharing pilot, building on the benefits of the Jobs for Nature (J4N) programme

Work with the Department of Conservation (DOC) to pilot a tourism-specific employee-sharing programme, building on the learning and positive outcomes of the J4N programme. The pilot would involve a broker in each of 3 regions to work with DOC and tourism businesses. That person would identify where a shared workforce could help address the challenges of seasonality and contribute to a stable workforce.

Outcome sought

Ensure positive economic and social outcomes arising from the J4N programme are maintained outside of a COVID-19 response context.

Jobs for Nature (J4N) is a 4-year, $1.219 billion programme that manages funding across multiple government agencies to benefit the environment, people, and regions. It was part of the COVID-19 economic recovery package to create nature-based employment opportunities, particularly for employees of businesses who were severely impacted by the COVID-19 border closure, while also delivering environmental benefits.

The J4N programme to date has funded over 400 projects across local government, iwi, charitable trust, community groups, and private companies. In relation to tourism, it enabled staff employed by businesses affected by closed borders to be re-deployed to undertake conservation work.

The prime example of this was the South Westland Tourism and Conservation project. This project received $3.78 million to support local businesses in retaining their staff by redeploying employees to carry out conservation work for the Department of Conservation (DOC). The employer was then reimbursed for the cost of their employees’ time. This enabled employers to retain staff during a period of decreased tourism and demand for their services. This had longer term benefits beyond the work carried out in that it supported businesses to retain a continuous and stable workforce, whilst supporting communities by enabling residents to remain local. Overall, the South Westland Tourism and Conservation project has supported over 50 businesses and 180 employees in the region.

Overall, the J4N programme has been a success. The programme has delivered numerous benefits to conservation and the environment, but also to the community and the wider economy, particularly in regions that were strongly affected by closed borders.

Benefits reported include:

  • greater resilience during periods of low visitors’ numbers (such as restricted travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic)
  • improved connection between the community and the whenua
  • improved mental health where a reduction in stress was identified by a business
  • owners/managers being connected to nature and conservation efforts
  • supporting the economy and people’s wellbeing by enabling businesses to remain open and for staff to remain employed
  • the flow-on effect of retaining families, schools, tradespeople, as well support networks in tourism-dependant communities
  • services reliant on volunteers, such as Fire and Emergency NZ, St Johns Ambulance and Civil Defence groups, retain enough community 'mass' to remain in operation
  • iwi partners realising aspirations for their whenua and people while working with others in the community.


To enable more year-round employment, the industry needs to find ways to make it easier for tourism businesses to share employees and possibly to facilitate such arrangements. This could allow, for example, a person to work as a kayaking guide in summer and a snow sports instructor in winter, while reaping more of the benefits of year-round, stable employment. It could also enable someone to hold multiple roles at once, for example working 30 hours per week inside standard business hours, while picking up a Friday night or weekend shift at a local restaurant.

Initiative 5 – Undertake a systems analysis of barriers to employee-sharing models of work

Map the ‘user journey’ from an employer and employee perspective. This will allow any barriers/points of friction to be identified. It is also an opportunity for industry to identify any missing elements that would enable this new way of working.

Identify next steps, which could include supporting employers and employees to achieve effective employee sharing, including region-specific options.

Outcome sought

Understand whether it is possible or appropriate to reduce or remove the barriers to holding more than 1 job at a time, bridge the communications gap, and help provide a viable way forward for employee-sharing.

While this already happens to some extent, it is typically ad hoc (driven by the employee themselves) or facilitated within a company that has a mix of business, such as significant summer and winter operations. We have heard that there are some systemic barriers to holding more than 1 job at a time, and that work could be done to try to lessen or remove these.

A key example of a barrier to employee-sharing is secondary tax – when a person is charged at a higher rate for their second job, and only receives any excess tax paid at the end of the tax year. In March 2019, Inland Revenue announced changes to secondary tax to reduce the incidence of over-payment. Individuals can apply for a tailored tax code that ensures they pay the right amount of tax as they earn across multiple jobs. However, we have also heard anecdotally that awareness and take-up of this solution is low.

The tourism industry (as well as other industries across the economy) would benefit from a systems analysis of barriers to employee-sharing.

Understanding the ‘user journey’ of employers and employees seeking to achieve an effective employee-sharing arrangement will allow a clear understanding of the nature of barriers in areas such as tax, immigration, employment law, and some of the practical considerations involved. This will inform which options are likely to have most impact. Options could include promotion of existing mechanisms, but could also include substantive system changes, if these are found to be required. 

As this is not simply a tourism issue, it is important that the analysis is conducted from a cross-economy point of view, considering the full range of industries. Action in this area will leverage the Future of Work Tripartite Forum.

Future of Work Tripartite Forum

The Future of Work Tripartite Forum is a partnership between the Government, Business New Zealand, and the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions. It aims to support New Zealand businesses and workers to meet the challenges and opportunities presented in a rapidly changing world of work.

Immigration settings

Initiative 6 – Explore options for clearer long-term immigration settings

Build on the Productivity Commission’s recommendations for clear long-term settings for immigration, once the Government’s response to the Productivity Commission’s report has been issued.

Outcome sought

Enable a richer discussion about the value migrants bring to the tourism industry and the options for enhancing this in order to add value and boost productivity, and enable the industry to better plan its workforce and skills needs on a longer-term basis.

The government is implementing immigration changes through the Immigration Rebalance. This is a major initiative, being led by the Minister of Immigration, that aims to make it easier to attract and hire high-skilled migrants, while supporting some sectors to transition to more productive and resilient ways of operating, and to lessen reliance on low-paid/waged migrant workers.

A large proportion of tourism and hospitality businesses employ migrant workers. As a result, the Immigration Rebalance is particularly relevant to the tourism industry as it looks to compete for labour and operate on a more sustainable basis. Within that context, the feedback from consultation clearly indicated that it is not feasible to have a conversation about the tourism workforce without acknowledgement of the important role migrants play in the workforce.

In relation to the seasonality of the industry, several businesses highlighted that for some roles, it made sense for people to ‘follow the seasons’ and there was a natural flow of workers between hemispheres that demonstrated this. A key example of this is the ski workforce, where workers often travel between Queenstown and Canada. Some suggested there was scope to look at this more closely and consider whether there was potential to enhance this feature by seeking more continuity of employment and/or training and development across the hemispheres.

The Productivity Commission’s report Fit for the Future [2], highlighted the need for a robust and transparent way to balance the longer-term benefits of immigration policy with short-term pressures and challenges. It recommended the focus of immigration policy be on selecting migrants who can make the biggest contribution to the economy and ensuring that New Zealand remains attractive to skilled migrants as the global competition for talent intensifies. It also recommended the Government publish an Immigration Government Policy Statement to clarify how immigration will be managed and connected to other government objectives.

In light of immigration settings and seasonality of the industry, there could be benefits to having a fresh conversation about migrants as part of the tourism workforce. In the context of the push for higher wages and greater productivity, it will be important to look at where migrants add value to our workforce or fill roles that are unable to be easily filled from the domestic labour force (even as other elements of the Better Work Action Plan come into effect). For example, embracing a global workforce model could lead to better outcomes for kiwis working in the industry, by supporting them to gain skills offshore that are recognised back home.

As migrant workers fill various roles in the tourism and hospitality industries, and following the release of the Government’s response to the Fit for the Future report, it will be important to continue the conversation between industry, union, and government leaders about longer-term immigration settings for the tourism industry to support business planning.

In addition, many of the Tirohanga Hou are relevant for both domestic and migrant workers. One example is the Accord, which will provide good employer options for both domestic and migrant workers. The cultural competency Tirohanga Hou will also support migrant workers to become familiar with te ao Māori and other culture and history specific to Aotearoa New Zealand.


  1. Data on key challenges — sets out the evidence on the scale of variability in seasonal work [Back to text]
  2. Immigration – Fit for the Future [PDF, 3.7 MB](external link) — New Zealand Productivity Commission (May 2022) [Back to text]
Last updated: 28 June 2023