The New Zealand tech sector has been remarkably successful during the time of Covid. Yes, not so good if you’re in tech to do with hospitality or tourism, but most of the tech companies have continued to grow and some of them have grown spectacularly (listen to the Kami Morgo Podcast). These companies already knew how to work remotely. And they benefited from offshore customers and investors getting used to engaging via Zoom.
But that is changing, fast.
With the latest Covid lockdown, we had to postpone MORGO, our annual get-together of the leaders of these high tech companies going global. That was relatively easy to do — moved to late November. And we thought that everyone would be able to come because nobody is travelling. Wrong! We found a huge pent-up frustration with the Government and people so desperate to engage in person with their customers, potential customers, and industry that they’re planning to travel WITH NO WAY BACK.
The first time I was told this it was, “Four of our sales guys have already gone. They said, with no sales we have no business. The rest of the world is open for business, and we have to be there. So they’ve gone, WITH NO WAY BACK.” They don’t know when they can re-enter New Zealand. They can’t even go on a waiting list for MIQ spots. The company has of course applied for the Government’s pilot of a programme to let business people isolate at home on return and will apply for the new MIQ places announced but have no idea if they have a chance of being selected.
The next case I heard was the two founders of a very hot young tech company who have decided they simply must attend a key industry event in the US in October. So, they are going, WITH NO WAY BACK.
The next was someone concluding an acquisition. This has been over a year in the making and he needs to go to conclude it. So, he’s going. WITH NO WAY BACK.
Then there was the CEO who said he simply has to travel because he has so many staff offshore and because he’s hoping to conclude more acquisitions. The rest of the world is open for business and to be in a good position to maintain and grow the business he runs, he simply has to go. WITH NO WAY BACK. He’s thinking of taking the whole family of five and going to live in Europe indefinitely.
So, how do we improve this situation while keeping New Zealanders safe?
1. The MIQ system is broken. It’s great that the Government has now announced there’ll be 50 places for exporters this year, but this is nowhere near enough. The Minister has talked about setting up a waiting room and then selecting people from it in a lottery. That’s incredibly unsatisfactory: it gives no business an opportunity to plan. Why can’t there be a waiting list, with different categories of priority? This won’t fix the whole MIQ system, but from a business point of view it’s incredibly valuable to know that you can get a place whether it’s in Nov, Dec, or Jan because this lets you plan.
2. What are the pathways forward? Clearly getting as many people as possible vaccinated is essential for all of us and having a high level of vaccination may be a precursor to any opening up. But the Government could tell us more now about the pathways they have in mind. Take the pilot programme for companies having vaccinated and tested employees isolate at home. All the companies above are applying for that. But how is the Government going to administer it? Is it only going to allow large companies into the trial? Can it be rapidly expanded? What is it looking for in its trial before making it available more generally? Is it open to ideas from businesses on how this could be made to work for them?
I think the real answers are in finding these safe pathways forward. Be great to get more ideas into this. As Sir Ian Taylor has said, time to engage the team of five million in finding the solutions!