Plenty to look forward to in 2023

I love Christmas in Otago.

People come home from all around the world to visit family, and Central Otago fills up with visitors from around the world.

Covid-19 has had a major impact over recent years on our Christmas gatherings, and again threatens with the third wave, but fortunately our high vaccination rates and access to antivirals as well as the excellent work from many health workers has meant that Covid has been less severe here.

The impact of Covid on tourism has highlighted the need to diversify our economy, particularly in Queenstown.

The primary sector has always been important in Otago and Southland, and exports continued to flow during Covid because of Government support with freight.

Diversification beyond these two industries is important for our resilience to future shocks.

Stuart Nash is the Minister of Tourism but he is also the Minister for Regional Development.

I joined him in Queenstown at the start of the month where he was focused on driving innovation with announcements on loans from the Queenstown Economic Transformation and Resilience Fund, which focuses on growing innovative industries to increase high-value jobs.

A $2 million loan to Target 3D Ltd is to upscale the Queenstown Digital Studio. The aim is to encourage screen production companies to remain in the district for longer periods when they come to film within the magnificent environment.

A loan of up to $1.25 million was announced for Queenstown-based Loaded Reports Ltd, a software platform for hospitality businesses.

Tourism will remain important to our region, and increases in our visitors have contributed to September quarter’s 2% GDP increase.

This is a massive growth in GDP, particularly considering the circumstances, and Government action to grow the economy means we are in a stronger position than before the pandemic.

New Zealand is as well placed as any other country to face the shifting global conditions, with low unemployment, growing exports, a rebound in tourist numbers and a healthy set of government books.

Our economic plan is working, and part of that plan is to shift to a low emissions economy, so it was great to see Queenstown and Wanaka’s ambition of tourism being carbon zero by 2030, and to discuss this goal with Mr Nash.

My summer will be focused on the reforms we want to deliver — a faster, cheaper, and better resource management system.

The legislation is in front of the environment select committee, of which I’m the deputy chairwoman and submissions are open.

Because councils implement the Resource Management Act it’s important that we have a good understanding of any fish hooks councils might find. I’ve had a very productive visit with Waitaki District Council and will continue to engage with councils (and others) over summer.

I hope summer brings some time with friends and family and that the weather is right for you.

Meri Kirihimete.