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Does New Zealand Tourism Need Some Activism?

The following is an article I wrote for NZ tourism business blog Tourism Ticker.  Given our stance in strong favour of sustainability, intelligence, respect for tangata whenua and responsible tourism, occasionally we need to make some points which need making to the industry at large. This is such an article.  For people who have not yet been to New Zealand, don't worry, the place is still well worth visiting.  We're just trying to keep it that way.

When I started working in tourism in New Zealand 20 or so years ago, I was pleased to see a Tourism Strategy existed and focused on the right things.  Having worked as a strategist for the previous 9 years out of London and Moscow and having set numerous airline, airport and aerospace strategies, I knew a strategy was important in ensuring a coordinated and coherent direction.  Since that time I’ve seen that the tourism sector in this country has been incapable of following its own strategy.  For those who don’t remember, the strategy advised targeting high value low impact niches given our distance from main markets.  Unsurprisingly the same strategy has been very successful for our wine industry, as it’s a strategy which takes into account our high value and distribution/transport costs.

So, what happened during that time, mostly under John Key?  A bewildering encouragement of high volume low end tourism from a single market.  The stupidity of relying on a single market is something which is usually understood in the first year of college.  Or remembered from our Japanese experience.  Add to that a clogging of infrastructure with freedom and other campers, and a degradation of our land through encouragement of intensive farming.  Not only have we been guilty of going after the wrong people, but the effect of those wrong people has resulted in the deterioration of the “New Zealand Experience”.  People aren’t as interested in visiting a country where they get mobbed or driven off the road by Chinese tourists.  Note – I believe there is nothing wrong with Chinese tourists, who are after all human beings like us all – but there is everything wrong with the quantity and proportion of low end Chinese tourists in New Zealand vis a vis those from the rest of the world.  Add to that the ridiculous proportion of camper vans in the country and even locals start deferring travel.

This misdirection looks even worse when we measure it against a growing sense of the absolute necessity of sustainability and quality, of being sensitive to our environment and climate change.  Of the need to be respectful not only to tangata whenua but also to the rest of the population of New Zealand who are seeing their quality of life eroded by a greedy few putting cheap bums on seats.  Those buses, camper vans and freedom campers are simply bludging on normal New Zealanders’ infrastructure in order to reap a profit, often offshore.

I strongly support a visitor tax.  This should be set much higher than proposed.  Do we really want people here who won’t put $100 or $200 towards mitigating the effect of their time in our land?  I would set a campervan tax to recognise the greater harm to the environment and inconvenience to NZers that these present.  I would license and restrict the numbers of campervans so as to manage their impact on our infrastructure.  I would lobby very hard against intensive farming.  What place does such environmentally harmful commodity farming have here?  Fonterra should focus on what it was set up for – adding value to dairy, not effluent to our waterways.  I would take those dodgy ex-tradesmen vans with their silly inaccurate self-contained stickers off the road.  I would ban freedom camping unless one is an NZ member of a bona fide club.  And what effect would all of this have?  Higher value tourists in fewer numbers, a better environment and infrastructure, pride in our own country, and room for locals to move and breathe.

I’m increasingly disappointed in the insipid tourism policies I see in this country.  Is anyone interested in helping me put together some sort of a group to get these sorts of views heard?

Posted by Jean-Michel Jefferson on July 25, 2019