Travel talks: Lesley Immink

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A new feature where people in the industry discuss their job and issues they face

Lesley Immink says the tourism industry is in such great shape it may even dislodge dairying as the top export earner. Photo / Supplied

Lesley Immink, the chief executive of Tourism Export Council NZ, started her career in the travel industry as a hotel housekeeper. Her 30-year career in tourism began on the frontline working in the THC hotels at Milford Sound, Franz Josef, Chateau Tongariro and the Sheraton Rotorua where she had roles in housekeeping, restaurant services, hotel reception, accounts and night auditing. She founded inbound company NZ Educational Tours in 1992. After selling the company in 2006 she taught tourism and travel at secondary and tertiary level before taking up her current position in March, 2011. The Tourism Export Council represents about 1300 key operators covering about 70 per cent of all international visitor arrivals.

What are the biggest challenges facing your business at the moment?

The ludicrous increase of up to $26 in border taxes for passengers that will be imposed early next year. Poor policing of concession fee rules for group travellers on coaches to visit the DoC estate for photographs and short walks under one hour (eg Huka Falls, Punakaiki Rocks, Milford Sound).

GST is a bugbear; inbound tour operators are the only export sector who cannot zero rate GST on their margins.

How will the fall in the NZ dollar against our main tourism partners affect your operation?

At the moment it means that it allows international visitors to spend more while they are here in New Zealand - so they get better value than in the previous few years. New Zealand is a premier destination and we shouldn't have to apologise as we have done in the past for our dollar and the cost of travel to get here and to experience premier products and experiences. It also gives tourism employers some confidence to employ more and reinvest in their businesses.

What's the worst part of your job?

Continual meetings with government agencies which have a lot of repetition and slow progress. Some public sector departments are like the oil tanker - slow to turn - but need to develop a superyacht mentality. We are after all one state, one government and are one of the most honest countries to do business with in the world.

What's the best part of your job?

Working with people in the industry who enjoy working hard and playing harder. The Tourism Export Council initiated a "youth organisation" called Young TEC and mentoring future tourism leaders gives a lot of satisfaction.

What initiatives do you have under way this year?

Continue developing Young TEC with leadership programme, working with Immigration New Zealand to mitigate visa barriers for international visitors and migrant workers, promoting tourism as a valued career choice.

Is the industry in good shape?

Yes. After four or five of the worst seasons ever, the tide has turned with a record season past (2014-2105 summer) and next season is looking even better. We may even dislodge the dairying sector [as the] number one export earner for the country.

How is your business affected by new technology/digital disrupters?

There has been disruption with new technology and the digital disrupters. For inbound tour operators, online travel agents (OTAs) like Expedia, Hotels.com, Wotif etc. have been the biggest threat but it mainly applies to independent travellers rather than group package business. Many inbound operators now partner with OTAs or have moved into that space themselves to hold their market share. Digital disrupters like Uber, Airbnb are a mixed bag. The direct consumer benefits most but there's the threat too much price discounting can impact on the traveller's experience. If you have time to complain about this instead of understanding how to leverage them, you probably won't survive.

Source: NZ Herald

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