Tourism - Time to renegotiate or withdraw our social licence

by Peter Newport - Jun 13, 2018

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.

invade nz

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.

Campervans parked MR

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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