Muddy Waters

20 May 2020

Jacinda Ardern came to town yesterday but Rotorua’s political and business leaders may be feeling a touch confused following two government moves announced on the same day.

Each move has a direct, and financially impactful, bearing on the tourism industry and Rotorua’s economic recovery.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shot into Rotorua yesterday (19 May 2020) to announce a $7.6 million “core investment” in Te Puia New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, over two years, as part of the Government’s Rebuilding Together Budget.

Also, on Tuesday (19 May 2020), Airways Corporation chief executive Graeme Sumner confirmed the State-owned enterprise’s earlier decision to pull air traffic services from Rotorua and six other regional airports.

To say that local officials are shocked by the airport decision would be an understatement.  The Airways announcement comes not only at a time when the government is emphasising and funding major tourism assets here but also as Rotorua Airport had effectively achieved an interim stay in the High Court in Wellington the day beforehand.

Following the ceremony at Te Puia regarding Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, PM Jacinda Ardern made her way to Rotorua Airport with one of her entourage filming an interview for Facebook.

In it, she talked about how industry leaders were considering how to “pivot” towards the domestic market in the wake of a dearth of international visitors due to coronavirus lockdown. 

She noted that 60 per cent of the tourism industry was supported by domestic tourism, but New Zealanders also spent about $9 billion yearly on international travel.

“The question for me is how do we encourage Kiwis by making sure they go out and have that experience that they don’t just stay with family and friends but they get out and about and visit some of the amazing places and  tourism offerings that we have.”

Operators were thinking about that as well and, she said, “We are going to be working with them on how we can promote that domestically.”

The PM then went on to discuss international tourism and the planned Australia-New Zealand visitor bubble.

She may or may not have popped in to visit Rotorua Airport chief executive Mark Webb.  The council-owned company was in the High Court in Wellington this week, where the airport company and Airways came to an apparent agreement to defer a decision on the flight services while the matter was taken to arbitration. 

The Prime Minister may not be aware that not long-ago Rotorua had a direct flight link with Sydney.  However, ongoing costs and losses meant the service was cancelled, the final act coming on 4 February 2019 when the airport’s standing as a Place of First Arrival under Section 37B of the Biosecurity Act 1993 was cancelled.

Now our Aussie cousins will not only have to fly into Auckland but will be restricted to flying by smaller aircraft from Auckland.  Those wanting to travel north from Queenstown (which retained its jet service flights) will also have to transit via other airports.

The government’s actions seem at odds – scrapping Airways services on one hand and pouring money into Te Puia and other projects on the other.


See the Airways Corporation statement regarding regional services:

See the statement by Maori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta regarding the funding input for Te Puia:

View the Jacinda Ardern’s Facebook video on the road to Rotorua airport.



Airport decision shock as Jacinda Ardern boosts tourism

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern checking in at Rotorua Airport on the way out of town.

Pic courtesy:


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