Mood of the Boardroom: 'We need to set a date for border re-opening'

Credit: Original article can be found here

Business

6 Oct, 2021 03:59 PM

Forsyth Barr chief executive Neil Paviour-Smith. Photo / Dean Purcell

The Government should set a date by when everyone has had the opportunity to be vaccinated and then open New Zealand up to the world, says Neil Paviour-Smith, managing director of Forsyth Barr.

“The challenge now is to start talking about at what point do things start to normalise with the realisation that Covid is here to stay.

“The world lives with measles and other infectious diseases and people choose to be vaccinated against them or not — Covid is another to add to the list,” says Paviour-Smith.

“Picking the ‘right’ vaccination number to base re-opening on is problematic — hopefully 90 per cent plus of the population gets vaccinated — a better way would be to set a date when everyone has had the opportunity to be vaccinated. A date when borders re-open, travel is freed up and so on. It’s an incentive for people to get on and get vaccinated if they want to.”

To support this, Paviour-Smith says authorities should take vaccination on the road, introduce incentives and work with trusted people in communities and on maraes to ensure everyone is vaccinated.

“For some people there has been confusion and disinformation about vaccination — the vaccine can be administered as part of a community event.”

Paviour-Smith says eventually the mass of the population does not want to be constrained because a minority has chosen not to be vaccinated.

“The irony is a year ago we were open and free. Now we are in lockdown and overseas we are seeing sports stadiums full of spectators. We need to have a timeframe for being open again.”

When the country opens, says Paviour-Smith, businesses and airlines will want proof of vaccination and this is where technology can play a part — electronically embedding the proof into passports or scanning it to a QR code, instead of carrying a card.

“There appears to be a lost opportunity not using smart technology to help with the next phase of reopening. If you don’t want to have the proof of vaccination electronically enabled, you don’t have to, but things may get complicated.

Paviour-Smith says there is a big opportunity to re-activate the tourism and international education sectors — both top ten export industries — by using Brand New Zealand to promote the country as a safe and welcoming place, and to target high-value visitors and international students.

“We can add the perspective that we have handled the pandemic very well compared with the rest of the world. We had a small number of deaths and we have a strong economy.

“Older people will travel if they are fit and able, but they are concerned about health. So New Zealand with no Covid would be attractive.

“With the right promotion, New Zealand can experience a strong bounce-back in tourism and international education. We can pursue this growth opportunity in a high quality rather than high volume manner, but it requires a willingness of the government to border reopening.”

Paviour-Smith says New Zealand has eight universities ranked in the top 500 of the world. “We can offer a safe and accepting environment and quality education and research, at a good price. There are different ways of isolating overseas students.

“High-value international students will help take the pressure off universities’ finances or government funding, and even cost cutting. We need to act as students are now dispersing to Canada and the UK.”

On the business-front, Paviour-Smith’s firm is spending time reassuring its clients in these uncertain times.

“A year ago clients were concerned this would be the worst since the Great Depression — the catastrophising by the media was quite alarming — but the lockdowns have not had the impact on global economies and sharemarkets as some thought.

“Their concern now is the human impact. How long does the Government continue Covid-related spending and what are the implications for the next generation? How do we continue to generate income from our investments? We want to help our families but we need to get our own affairs in order first.”

Paviour-Smith says “we are telling clients to stay the course with their investments, and resist the temptation of knee-jerk decisions. Low interest rates are an issue, but with growth in investment values, using some of the increased capital is appropriate. It’s an education process — the idea of consuming some of their capital is a bit challenging for some.”

Neil Paviour-Smith’s top three issues

• Border reopening — needs rapid full vaccination combined with smart technology.

• Skills shortages — needs a return to prior immigration settings.

• Infrastructure — a coordinated long-term plan with clear short-term targets and accountability for delivery.