Rebecca Ingram: One for all, all for one ‌

Rebecca Ingram, chief executive of Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA), is embarking on post-lockdown transformation from the ground up, as she works towards laying strong foundations to future-proof the 70-year-old association for the next milestone

Rebecca Ingram. Photo credit: Rachel AJ Lee

You’ve been in this post for over a year, having just taken over as the world emerged from Covid. Could you take us through the year that has passed?
When I first joined tourism, international borders were still closed. The first thing I had to do was to be really clear about what the milestones for reopening would be, and how we could prepare the industry for when that occurred.

‌We opened in August 2022, which was our first summer of recovery. As an association, we were focused on how to support our members in coming out of the pandemic, and getting ready for their first summer season. This involved working with the various departments and government agencies, and making sure that we communicate really clearly with our members about what’s changing and what they need to prepare for. We also had to make ourselves available to help our members as they navigated the complex period of restarting and recovering.

I took a look at TIA’s members and noticed they range from SMEs to associations to large companies. How does TIA advocate collectively on behalf of the tourism industry, seeing that the needs of SMEs differ to associations and large companies, and vice versa?
TIA represents 1,200 member organisations, from micro businesses right through large-listed companies. We’re really clear about where we’re heading as an industry. Our role as TIA is to enable outstanding tourism, and we keep that in mind at all times.

We work on many issues on behalf of the industry. For example, there are specific issues that might relate to a certain sector, and we have conversations with members in those sectors around those particular issues, such as freedom camping legislation. During our meetings, members (also have the opportunity to) raise concerns in areas that can be improved, as well as ask questions. It’s our job to assimilate all that, and put forward a cohesive view on behalf of the industry to relevant ministers.‌

TIA has been around for 70 years, and we have earned the trust and integrity over the years from our members, because they know we bring the collective voice of the tourism industry.

How did the association keep its members engaged and provide assistance for challenges that emerged during the pandemic?
During the pandemic years when we were grappling with a lot of change, we created the Tourism Association Network. These associations come together on a monthly basis to share what’s happening across our respective sectors. Whether it’s an airport association, a bed and breakfast association, a backpacker association or a youth association, they are clear on what are the important things for their members at any given time. We bring them together and support them.

Right now, we’re working on a three-year strategy. We are looking at what our members need from us now, which has changed quite significantly from pre-Covid. We’re focused on ensuring our members are getting value for their membership, and making sure that we’re really bringing that voice and that diversity of the tourism industry into our conversations with the government and advocating effectively for them.

That is why events like TRENZ (organised by TIA and held in April 2023) are critical, not just for the tourism industry, but for New Zealanders contributing to the wider economy, the communities that host tourism operations, and the families whose members work in the sector. From the big picture to individual pay packets – tourism matters.

What are some of your plans for TIA and where do you think the association will be in five years?
As an industry, the context has shifted significantly as we emerged from Covid, and we need to ensure there’s a really strong blueprint for the industry for where we want to go.

Our focus at the moment is our core services, which is what our members value from us the most; and that’s efficacy, leadership, great communication and trends. I’m also looking at how to strengthen the association, by ensuring we’re financially stable, doing the right stuff from a sustainability perspective, and delivering on the promises that we will make as part of an industry strategy.

As we celebrate our 70th birthday this year, I have the responsibility as chief executive to make sure that the association stays strong, as I lay the foundations and shepherd it to being around for another 70 years.

How does New Zealand’s tourism future look like, and how will TIA be a part of this fabric?
We’re on the cusp of regenerative tourism; it’s what everyone is talking about. I believe New Zealand is in a very strong position to create that kind of tourism, because we’ve been stepping towards it for years. In fact, a lot of our tourism businesses are regenerative. We just didn’t know what the label was.

The businesses in our tourism campaign videos are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s happening across the tourism industry, and how we are really progressing towards being regenerative. There are so many other individual businesses doing the same thing.‌

It’s a very active conversation in New Zealand, and I am really energised and excited by it. One of the characteristics of the New Zealand tourism industry is that we are tightly connected. That means that when we’ve got these big aspirations for ourselves, which helps us work collectively to achieve them. This gives me confidence in the future.