The trouble with a trans Tasman bubble for Australia’s ski resorts

Perisher. Photo credit: Taras Vyshnya/shutterstock

There’s an age old saying in marketing 101, you don’t build yourself up by tearing down your competitors.

Clearly New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister is not a marketer, nor did he consult his country’s own ski industry (who would no doubt have set him straight) if his quotes in last weekend’s Sydney Morning Herald Traveller section are anything to go by.

“I know what the skiing is like in the Snowy Mountains. The Snowy Mountains are not a big place for skiing compared with South Island” said Winston Peters as reported by AAP New Zealand correspondent Ben McKay. 

“Given that 55 per cent of our tourists come from Australia, the sooner we get some sense of normalcy… the better” he went on to say in reference to the much lauded trans Tasman ‘bubble’.

We’ll give him credit, the latter half may be true, hence the desire to open borders, but his perception of the Snowy Mountains in Australia, is far from true. 

The largest ski resort in Australasia is Perisher with 1245 hectares and the longest run on both sides of the ditch is Thredbo’s Supertrail at 5.9kms. Skiing and snowboarding is a $1.4billion industry in New Zealand and a $2.4billion in Australia. 

I could go on, but I won’t. We all know both sides of the ditch have their pros and their cons and regardless of who has what and where, that skiers and snowboarders just want to go skiing this season and want to know when.

The industry is on edge in both Australia and New Zealand, the skiers and snowboarders are on edge, and nobody even knows, 5 weeks out of the traditional opening weekend, if there is going to be a season. Nor do we know that if there is one, what month that will be and if the resorts are financially capable of doing so.

Talk of a Trans Tasman bubble is still just that, despite a National Cabinet meeting between the two nations Prime Ministers and Australia’s state leaders. Though the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern revealed that whatever the travel bubble is it will most likely mean no quarantine attached. 

That’s good news for the ski and snowboard industry in New Zealand where Australia makes up almost half of their winter visitation, and where Queenstown tourism in particular has been decimated with almost 80% of their annual international visitation now gone. But it’s not such great news for our own resorts. 

However, the dilemma with a trans Tasman bubble opening in time for this southern winter or spring is complex. The Australian ski fields are coming off the back of a devastating bushfire season that cost tourism $4.5billion. Many businesses will go under without a ski season, having lost the crucial January summer holidays to the bushfires, then Easter to COVID-19. Then sadly some will go under even with a reduced season and none of us want that to happen.

Australian skiers and boarders will want to spend their money within their own market to support the industry and to ensure there is one next year and beyond. Every region around the tourism world right now is promoting local, encouraging locals to spend locally, regions to spend regionally, countries to spend domestically.

But who do we “owe” our patronage to? Australia because it’s home? New Zealand because they need us and we want them to also survive? Both?

Or do we go where the dollar goes further? Many brands will be rethinking how to create loyalty from their customer base and some will be lamenting not doing so sooner. 

Perhaps it’s time to get creative and offer “home and away” package spring ski deals with a week in Australia and a week in New Zealand so we can share the love. But even then, that’s assuming anyone has any holiday time and pay left, thanks to the elephant in the room – income.

Who’s got one? Who’s lost it, who’s had it reduced and how will discretionary spending change.

So many questions. We hope to have some more answers this afternoon after Australia’s National Cabinet meeting concludes.

Watch this space.

Check out how Aussie and Kiwi skiers and snowboarders are coping with life in lockdown by “skiing at home” literally.

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Want to guess how the Aussie ski resorts will run this winter?

Rachael Oakes-Ash is the name behind @misssnowitall and the founder of SnowsBest.com. A long time travel and lifestyle journalist and ski writer, she's been published in ESPN, TIME, Wallpaper*, Action Asia, Inside Sport, Australian Financial Review, Emirates Open Skies, Conde Nast Traveler and more. She was the Fairfax snow blogger from 2007 to 2017 and the Southern Hemisphere editor for OnTheSnow. Rachael is also a documentary producer, author, radio announcer and humorist.