Caring for New Zealand as tourism grows

Caring for New Zealand as tourism grows

Tourism has taken off. Our international visitor arrivals now exceed 3.8 million a year, and are still growing. Domestic tourism numbers now exceed international arrivals, and are still growing. There’s a but. As tourism booms, New Zealanders are becoming increasingly aware of both the benefits and costs.

We’ve seen how environmental degradation, and now the shock of Mycoplasma bovis, has raised questions about our reliance on the dairy industry. These questions also apply to our reliance on tourism. They highlight the urgent need for forward-thinking to ensure the long term health of our tourism industry, and of our country, because they go together.

Yes, there is considerable, ongoing talk about how to manage tourism in New Zealand. But too often the focus is on economic impacts; on who should fund the cost of managing tourism, and how. Often forgotten is the need to consider first the health of our country; our national parks and other most special natural areas, our land and seascapes and wildlife - and our communities, our people who live in these places.

Managing our tourism industry should not be seen as an economic discussion. The focus should be discussing how we stop degrading our national parks and special places, and stop impacting negatively on small communities and tourism towns such as Punakaiki, Queenstown and Taupo.

There are many international examples that demonstrate how, with commitment and financial support, we can manage tourism sustainably.

With the huge tourism growth over the past eight years we have not been doing this. The industry has been in reactive mode and amazingly still, proudly, talking up the numbers.

The discussion must move from arguing about the cost, to the need to ensure New Zealand does not suffer from tourism impacts. We can do this by pledging financial support and employing appropriate professional skills to develop relevant and forward-thinking policies, plans, programmes and actions.

We must ensure that the tourism sector has strong research and policy capabilities. As it stands, when it comes to understanding tourism statistics and trends and developing appropriate policies, for freedom camping for example, New Zealand struggles. To expect that small communities, such as Haast, Hokitika and Taumarunui, employ policy experts who can deal with complex tourism issues is fanciful. Rather, it is appropriate that these skills exist in central government agencies; MBIE, DOC – and in a strong (new?) Ministry of Tourism. Our current capabilities need to be seriously strengthened.

A classic example of the need to deal with complex tourism pressures is Tongariro National Park. The crowded Tongariro Alpine Crossing is, finally, is being actively managed. However, there is more that needs to be done; better shuttle services, increased education about safety and cultural values, daily walker limits and the introduction of a fee to walk the Crossing. Addressing the management of key sites in the park such as Whakapapa Village also needs planning and funding. DOC’s focus is, rightfully, on biodiversity and visitor management, and more funding to help achieve this is not only needed now, it must be guaranteed on a reliable, long-term basis.

So looking at the big picture, how do we fund appropriate tourism management and Tourism development in New Zealand?

Funding needs to come from a variety of sources. Currently, tourism’s direct economic contribution to New Zealand is more than $35 billion. The GST component of this is more than $4billion. That’s one source. There is also the good logic of introducing an international departure tax, as recently announced by the government after years of discussion. We now await the details; how it will be managed and the actual date of implementation.

We should also ensure that, where fitting, public facilities such as DOC huts are charged for at an appropriate rate, and entry fees at high pressure spots, for example the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, are introduced. The just announced differential rates for international and New Zealand hut users are a good start. All these approaches - government funding, departure taxes and entry fees to national park sites - are used in many countries with high tourist numbers.

New Zealand, for the sake of her environment and her small and growing (for example Queenstown) tourism centres, must make the financial commitment now to manage tourism in the long term. Our parks, our special places, and our communities depend on it.

Posted: Sunday 3 June 2018

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