Stop the chatter: Government must step up
With the summer tourism season well underway, busier than ever and the usual hotspots under increasing pressure, a barrage of solutions for managing our growing industry are being bandied about in the media, both mainstream and social.
There is little debate that while there are benefits from this tourism growth, there are issues to address. We all know them: infrastructure funding, freedom camping, waste management, over-crowding and dispersing of visitors, both regionally and seasonally.
Three months on from the release of the much-awaited McKinsey Report – coincidentally at the same time our previous Minister of Tourism stood down - the big questions remain unanswered. How are we going to fund, and manage, New Zealand’s bourgeoning tourism growth, and manage it in a sustainable way?
Some excellent suggestions, proposed by various reports, government departments and industry leaders, have been offset by less sustainable ideas, such as privatising our Great Walks and developing a fragmented approach to our industry.
Just last week more ideas have been thrown up for discussion. DOC’s Director General, Lou Sanson, spoke in support of charging entry fees to some areas of our National Parks, at the same time introducing differential fees for visitors and New Zealanders. FMC has also provided thoughtful commentary. This is all timely.
Let’s not just embrace the good ideas but encompass them into a wider, overarching sustainable tourism action plan for New Zealand. There are so many suggestions floating around, solutions to each individual issue – freedom camping, national parks, local community infrastructure we need a comprehensive, integrated package.
And we need to act now, because some of our most significant tourism ‘resources’, which also happen to include some of our most special natural and cultural heritage, are being degraded. A walk on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, for example, will quickly remind of the pressures; of crowding, waste management and cultural impacts, and this in our dual World Heritage Tongariro National Park.
Let’s stop talking and start managing. How? The required funding initiatives, for both DOC and community tourism infrastructure, should be led by government.
DOC, charged with protecting our most special natural resources across one third of our country, shouldn't have to be scratching for new revenue options and developing 'tourism products' to fund itself, as it is currently doing.
I believe the government of the day needs to show long-term strategic leadership and develop an overarching funding model. This model should include a vastly greater commitment from central government to support those, such as DOC and local councils, who are facing the brunt of managing tourism pressures.
There appears to be support in principle from all the major political parties for increased funding through direct government allocations and a departure tax. The GST take on tourism (now exceeding a massive $2billion a year!) should be part of this funding mix.
There is sufficient evidence that tourism as an industry can provide positive economic, social, cultural and environmental impacts. Let’s, then, ensure its long-term sustainability. And let the government lead the way by fronting up with a greater contribution to DOC, Infrastructure Funds and a sustainable Tourism Plan.
Photos: Mt Aspiring National Park - The Wilkin Valley was popular this summer
Posted: Wednesday 1 March 2017