Aussie kids steal Kiwis’ Great Walks
Tourism industry welcomes higher charges for foreign tourists as way to boost ‘undervalued’ attractions, writes
Paul Margis and Kayleigh Wang had the Abel Tasman track to themselves yesterday.
That is, until they bumped into a fly-in/fly-out visit from a delegation of politicians and media, cameras whirring and rhetoric flowing.
The couple, Margis from the UK and Wang from the US, now live in Wellington. But when they first arrived in New Zealand, it was as overseas tourists. And when their British and American friends and family follow them to see the sights they write home about, they will pay twice as much as Kiwis.
Standing on the beach yesterday, Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage announced her department would double the hut fees for overseas tourists on the Abel Tasman, Routeburn and Kepler Great Walks and on that most famous track of all, the Milford.
Tourists on the Milford will now pay $140 a night. It will cost them as much to stay in a tramping hut, with no power or hot water, as it would for a fullservice motel room.
From October, overseas children – previously exempt from hut fees, like Kiwi kids – will pay as much as their parents and teachers.
Sage hoped the move would give young Kiwis who had previously been missing out a greater chance of experiencing what their own back-country had to offer.
‘‘New Zealand children under 18 can walk these great walks for free,’’ she said. ‘‘International children will be paying the same as adults because there have been issues with Australian schoolchildren coming in and doing block bookings and then not always turning up, so this was taking that opportunity from others.’’
The Government hopes its Great Walks funding announcement will open new pathways to New Zealand’s lesser-travelled tracks, such as the Whanganui River journey or Lake Waikaremoana. The trial will last seven months including summer – after that, the Government will decide whether to can it, or potentially expand it to all nine Great Walks.
Margis and Wang agreed with the idea of paying a bit extra to contribute to the park infrastructure, though they acknowledged it would be unpopular among tourists. ‘‘There might be a bit of divide in the camp between Kiwis and internationals,’’ Margis said. ‘‘I can see some people might be a bit miffed.’’
Costs for New Zealanders will remain the same at $70 per night for the Milford, $65 per night for the Kepler and the Routeburn, and $38 per night for the Abel Tasman Coastal Walk. New Zealanders aged under 18 will still not have to pay.
With over 300,000 visitors annually, the Abel Tasman National Park is the mostfrequented of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. But as the Sunday Star-Times reported last month, Department of Conservation rangers now find themselves cleaning up used toilet paper on the track , as the park becomes ever more crowded.
The new fees are intended to help cover the $3.8 million shortfall in maintaining the Great Walks and their facilities.
Some in the tourism industry have been opposed to differential pricing says it makes overseas tourists feel second-class. But last night Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts welcomed the trial, saying it made no sense that the Great Walks were promoted heavily and yet DOC was still losing money on them.
‘‘We believe we’ve been undervaluing the Great Walks. They’re some of the best walks available in the world.’’
He believed the four in the trial would still be fully booked despite the price hike.
Differential pricing was ‘‘quite common’’ around the world and Roberts said he did not expect any backlash.
Wilsons Abel Tasman, which offers cruises, kayaking and guided walks around the park, said DOC was right to explore options to address its funding shortfall.
‘‘As a country, we have to do something,’’ said chief executive Darryl Wilson. ‘‘I think it’s a step in the right direction.’’
But he reminded the Government that international visitors already contributed through taxes such as GST. ‘‘International visitors are not freeloaders.’’
Back on the Abel Tasman, Wang warned that higher prices may mean tourists wouldn’t see as much of New Zealand.
‘‘I first came to New Zealand two years ago and what I liked about it was the fact you could do a lot of these walks and there was either a low cost or no cost at all,’’ she said.
‘‘I don’t think it would deter me – but I’d be a lot more selective about what walks I’d do.’’
Foreign visitors will pay $140 a night to walk the Milford Track. Paul Margis and Kayleigh Wang agree with the principle of charging tourists more, but expect it to be unpopular.