Find a viable alternative before dropping the current model

by Julie White, chief operating officer, Hospitality New Zealand

“Over the last fortnight, the accommodation and tourism sectors have been reeling from the news that the government intends to cease funding for a vital industry resource: the Commercial Accommodation Monitor (CAM).

The survey gives commercial accommodation providers vital data and insights regarding visitor volumes and activity across New Zealand, at national and regional levels, including guest night
numbers, capacity, number of establishments and occupancy rates. This data is vital for securing investment for hospitality and tourism. It is vital for ensuring that the regions are getting the right slice of the tourism dollar they need, and that we as an industry have the necessary information to spread the tourism dollar out beyond the bottlenecks of Auckland and Queenstown.

The CAM data is also of the uttermost importance for achieving the government’s own goal of better data and insights on tourism (as laid out in the New Zealand-Aotearoa Government Tourism Strategy released  in May 2019), with the ultimate goal of achieving a sustainable tourism industry, that brings value and benefit to all in New Zealand.

The data collected in the CAM not only brings value to tourism and hospitality, but also provides key insights on labour and employment, and infrastructure planning, making it an important resource not only for MBIE, but other parallel ministries. Beyond being vital, the CAM (or Accommodation Survey as it is also known) is also currently our only reliable insight into domestic and international overnight stays. As many industry spokespersons have come out to say in the last two weeks, the survey is less than perfect.

Requests have been made to government for some time now, but not met, to capture data related to the share economy in the survey. The survey is not perfect, but it is our only source of data right now. It has been consequently of great frustration to the industry as a whole that instead of seeking to adapt the current CAM, and improve it, to meet the current needs of an ever-changing industry and economic climate – MBIE has made the decision, due to financial pressures, to can the CAM, at least, for now.

In the week following the announcement by MBIE that the CAM would cease in November 2019 (with the final report covering data for the month of September 2019), Hospitality New Zealand has been reassured by MBIE and Stats NZ, that a new solution will be found. Addressing representatives from the industry, MBIE offered assurances that MBIE, Stats NZ and the Minister of Tourism Kelvin Davis all equally “mourn the loss” of the CAM.

Following the dissent of the hospitality and tourism industry, MBIE has stated that their aim now is to find a sound and robust solution for both government and the industry. Residual frustration
remains, however, that government could not have had the foresight to plan and create an alternative (as it was revealed last week, the Minister had expected), before moving ahead with plans to scrap the existing model.

According to MBIE, it is a simple matter that they can no longer afford the CAM, with a budget of $500,000, and a cost of $2.2 million. We appreciate that the increasing cost pressures placed on
Stats NZ has brought us to this stage, with a $1.7 million shortfall in funding. It seems strange, however, that the Ministry could not have anticipated that ending one process, without a new
model in place, was not the most efficient or sensible idea. It is also equally hard to believe that MBIE could not have foreseen this budgetary-gap before now.

While MBIE has now offered verbal assurances that a replacement for the CAM will be sought, it does seem almost as if the government is seeking to place the responsibility of coming up with an
affordable, viable and usable solution on the shoulders of industry. To achieve this, the government have offered industry representatives an extremely tight time frame to hash out our “ideas” on a possible solution.

If it turns out that government has no appetite to continue the part they play in the CAM, a private sector solution will come with concerns. Under the current legislation, commercial accommodation operators must submit their data, while a private sector alternative would come with compliancy issues.

The industry has been told that the solution could result in a better product, a “CAM PLUS”, that includes all the commercial and peer to peer data requested by the industry, or alternatively two
products that meet this need. In the meantime, amidst the uncertainty of what sort of CAM 2.0 or CAM x2 we will end up with – one certainty remains; the industry will be faced with a data gap, an interim without data between September 2019 and the time when a solution is found. This gap and the subsequent break in habit for operators of filling in the data could also cause compliancy issues.

MBIE tells us it is looking for an enduring solution. Which sounds like good news. But, by their own admission, not a “speedy” solution, with some of the mooted solutions described as a work in
progress that could be more than a year out. Which may not be good news for the industry.”

Julie White is the chief operating officer of Hospitality New Zealand.