Privatising our great walks, funding National Park tourism infrastructure and more
With our Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, John Key, stepping down this week the media has been preoccupied with who is sitting next to who at the cabinet table.
At the same time a crucial report on future management and funding options for tourism, including in our national parks, was released but received little notice.
The McKinsey Report (https://tia.org.nz/assets/Uploads/Tourism-Infrastructure-Executive-Summary2.pdf) was commissioned by major industry players Air New Zealand, Tourism Holdings (the country’s largest rental camper van operator) and Christchurch and Auckland airports to consider options for funding tourism infrastructure. The Report’s recommendations, if accepted, could have significant impacts and benefits on how we manage the growing tourism sector in our small tourism towns and villages, and the tourism hotspots in our national parks.
In summary, the report concludes at least $100 million a year is needed for investment in infrastructure and key areas in our tourism towns and villages and national parks.
The report proposes a tourism development fund made up of contributions from a border departure tax ($5/departing passenger) and a 2% bed tax on all accommodation, matched by an equal contribution from Treasury’s GST return. This is an excellent concept and the sooner it is implemented the better.
Yes, there will be challenges with the bed tax concept —so perhaps just increase the GST contribution and the border departure tax - but, in principle, let’s encourage the development of the Tourism Infrastructure Fund. Let’s also make sure it addresses the burgeoning challenges we face with tourism pressures in parts of the DOC estate.
However, of particular interest and, in fact alarm, for me was the suggestion for privatising the Great Walks in our national parks. The McKinsey Report proposed that a private consortium would design, build, finance, operate and maintain the Great Walks - and build more. This concept flies in the face of the long-cherished, embedded in legislation, freedom of access to our national parks. It could also ignore Treaty of Waitangi obligations.
Instead, what is needed is increased government funding from the $2.8 billion GST receipts currently generated by tourism. With more than half of our visitors enjoying visits to the DOC estate, let’s ensure that DOC actually has the ability to manage the rapidly growing visitor numbers in our national park hotspots - along with other under-pressure DOC-managed sites such as Cape Reinga and Huka Falls.
Hopefully now, with the English-Bennett leadership settling in, meaningful media and public debate on the best options for funding our tourism infrastructure will ensue. We need this for our struggling small communities and for the sustainable management of our Conservation estate.
It was good to hear last week’s Radio New Zealand sound bites covering these issues, including on Jim Mora's panel this week (http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/thepanel/audio/201826818/tourism-infrastructure-strain). There will be more discussion this coming week on Nine to Noon.
Great Walks aside, the McKinsey Report made some excellent recommendations. Let’s all grab the opportunity and encourage the implementation of these so that the development of the Tourism Infrastructure Fund, and the appropriate allocation of resources, occurs as soon as possible.
Photo: Easy snow shoe walking on the Tasman Glacier
Posted: Sunday 11 December 2016