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Tourism - Time to renegotiate or withdraw our social licence

Editorial. Crux Managing Editor Peter Newport looks at the question of whether tourism is benefitting, or harming, the people who live here.

Even Tourism New Zealand agrees that tourism needs the support of all New Zealanders. It’s obvious really. Tourists come here because of our welcoming Kiwi culture – we’re not the only country in the world with mountains and lakes.

But, as many destinations around the world hit peak tourism and the residents rebel, we are often told that New Zealand can take more tourists – a lot more. I’m not sure the residents of Wanaka and Queenstown would agree.

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Tourism - show us the money. Image: The Inspiration Room

In fact, it goes much further than that. We’ve been sold the line for decades that tourism is good for us. It creates jobs, generates wealth and gives New Zealand valuable global exposure. The trouble is that the jobs are often minimum wage and linked to low productivity. The wealth stays in the hands of a few, sometimes going to overseas companies that might pay relatively little NZ tax. Why does New Zealand need more exposure – just to bring more tourists?

The days when we were insecure and anxious about our identity are hopefully long gone. The days when everything had to be “styled in Europe” to be any good.

We now have our own amazing wine, food, art and even technologies. We have grown up.

So why are we so anxious to keep selling our country at bargain basement prices to anyone who wants to come here? Why does tourism have to be a game of growth, growth and more growth – at virtually any cost? It’s ruining our great walks, damaging our smaller towns, diluting our identity, making our roads less safe – all at the expense of the taxpayers and rate payers.

That’s definitely not to say we should get out of the tourism game. Good, smart tourism can be as excellent as low quality, unsustainable tourism can be damaging.

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Tourism - quantity over quality?

Imagine a New Zealand that was expensive to visit. Imagine tourists needing to learn about our respect for nature before arriving and paying a healthy financial contribution to preserving that same natural environment. Imagine an annual tourism quota based on what we could support in a sustainable and equitable fashion. Imagine tourism that paid decent wages and supported proper career structures. Imagine tourism that did not depend on a hospitality industry where it’s often only migrant workers who will put up with the poor, badly paid conditions. Imagine a tourism industry that provided decent, healthy and affordable accommodation for its labour force.

All of this is possible. And the exciting part is that it is up to New Zealanders to engineer the change. The social licence that we grant to tourism is real. The money we pay towards infrastructure is real. The forgiving, friendly wave when tourists get in our way or make our life hard is real. But it is also all ours to withdraw.

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Queenstown. Have we lost the plot? Developers in the shadow of The Remarkables.

Renewing any licence is a great opportunity to renegotiate terms. Let’s support tourism, but only smart tourism. Let’s ask the tourism industry to show us the money – show us the trickle-down benefits we’ve been promised all these years. Maybe it’s all good and we just can’t see it. Maybe we really have been better off all these years and have not given proper credit to the tourism industry.

But, if it is not doing us any good – on a personal basis – let’s renegotiate that social licence. If we’ve been sold an empty promise, then we need a new deal. If the only tourism we can make work pays low wages, can’t fund infrastructure and is a negative to the average Kiwi, then let’s stop doing it. Let’s stop hurting ourselves and do something smart instead.

We need a reasonable, fair and balanced tourism deal that benefits everyone – including the tourists.

Crux welcomes all comments on this editorial, including any response from Destination Queenstown, Lake Wanaka Tourism and the tourism industry in general.

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  • carmen howell : 15/06/2018, 10:51 am (18 months ago)

    The impact of tourism occurs the moment we step foot on the plane. It is absurd that mass tourism is being driven in the QLDC without extensive qualitative research on its longterm impact on our environment and communities.

  • Vladka Kennett : 15/06/2018, 10:32 am (18 months ago)

    I’ve been running an inbound travel business here in NZ since 2004 and can see the changes over that time. Not only we are at a tipping point right now... we might have lost the plot already. There is much more to it - sustainability is the code. Quality over quantity... If we let it off chain, there will be a very hard way back (if any).
    I don't agree the solution is to get more expensive... (I feel almost ashamed when I send a quote to my - event the top end - clients!!) This is much more psychological - we as a country - need to be a role model ourselves. To be much more strict with protecting our nature e.g. capping numbers of people visiting the ‘top spots’, protect our values rather than to prostitute everything for $$$. Where there is a ‘no’ somewhere, there is simply NO - and nobody can buy ‘YES’.

  • Stewart Hydes : 14/06/2018, 8:53 am (18 months ago)

    The problem .. how do we stop Freedom Camping for international tourists now .. and still let Kiwi’s enjoy our own country, as we always have?
    You’d maybe have to have some form of Kiwi Pass, for citizens / residents .. a sticker on your windscreen .. so Kiwi’s can still camp by a lake or a river.
    As things stand .. I’d agree with Kiwi’s developing an increasing hostility towards Tourists who are Freedom Camping. Unfortunately. “The authorities” have let us down .. badly .. and who has confidence that they have things on a strong and urgent path of improvement? And what other choice do we have?
    Our government is developing a robust reputation for failing to listen or take up the majority view. That of “the Silent Majority”. Well, government, you’re sitting on a snake. Eventually .. we’re going to bite you in the arse!

  • Stewart Hydes : 14/06/2018, 8:41 am (18 months ago)

    Great article. We all know the issue. It hasn’t suddenly sprung up overnight. There should have been a good plan right from the start. That’s what we pay government agencies for (with our taxes). Measured tourism increases .. matched by appropriate infrastructure / capacity increases. It is typical of NZ’s economic development initiatives .. that it turns into a debacle. Short-term, money-making thinking .. followed by “oh shit, now we’ve got a problem” .. normally accompanied by a small number of people who were trying to issue warnings .. but whose views were marginalised, as naysayers.
    Freedom camping needs to stop, for a start. Replaced by camper van parks always near urban centres. Keep our beautiful landscapes clear of camper van clutter (and faecal matter) .. day visits only!

  • David Liechti : 13/06/2018, 6:33 am (18 months ago)


  • Andy Bond : 12/06/2018, 11:06 pm (18 months ago)

    So what is the answer? The tourism industry actively targeted certain countries ten years or more ago to attract them to NZ’s beauty, friendly locals and easy way of life. Now that they are here by the plane loads, the genie is out of the bottle and cannot be put back in there. If we limit the number of tourists, we will end up with elite tourism where only the rich can afford to come here which will further push up prices for locals. If we introduce a tourist tax, it will only go towards improved infrastructure to allow even more tourists to flock here. And will either help the minimum wage workers? No. Elite tourism pushing up prices will mean that locals avoid going into Queentown for a night out, which is something that is already happening, due to the expense. More tourists will result in the need for even more minimum wage worker crammed into cold and damp properties paying outrageous rental prices. For locals, Queenstown has become a victim of its own success and we are paying the price in more ways than one. For the few who are making money out of tourism, do they or should they care about the impact it is having?

  • Raymond Keys : 12/06/2018, 7:06 pm (18 months ago)

    Great article.
    It is not rocket science, and many countries already operate some form of tourist tax (in addition to any GST-like tax). It is absolutely essential if we are to fund the infrastructure that is required to manage the current levels of tourism, never mind the significant growth that has been predicted for the years ahead.