Tol­er­ance key to tourism growth

The Southland Times - - News -

New Zealand needs to take a more grownup and nu­anced ap­proach to deal­ing with tourism-re­lated is­sues than slap­ping bans on ev­ery­thing that be­comes a prob­lem. The lat­est over­re­ac­tion comes from po­lice and health work­ers in Queen­stown, who have called for a 24-hour, year-round liquor ban there. Such bans are unimag­i­na­tive and heavy-handed and, while they may solve a prob­lem of ex­ces­sive and dan­ger­ous drink­ing at such events as the town’s in­fa­mous Christ­mas Day or­phans’ party, they do so by lim­it­ing the free­doms of us all.

A tar­geted ban to stop spe­cific prob­lem days would be a far fairer ap­proach, and do the job of pro­tect­ing Queen­stown’s tourism rep­u­ta­tion. For the other days, and for other is­sues like free­dom campers dry­ing their clothes on a tree, or for­eign tram­pers clog­ging up the Ton­gariro Cross­ing, the an­swer is not more rules, but more tol­er­ance.

Tourists re­ally are this coun­try’s golden goose. That doesn’t mean we must kow­tow to their ev­ery whim and put up with what­ever way they choose to be­have, but it does mean we should ac­cept there will be a cost to their con­tri­bu­tion and be pre­pared to shoul­der that bur­den.

Be­cause for what the 3.7 mil­lion peo­ple who come here each year bring, that cost is mi­nor. Tourism is our big­gest ex­port earner. Those who travel here spend a col­lec­tive $14.5 bil­lion; back­pack­ers, the source of most of our tourism angst, con­trib­ute $600 mil­lion of that.

To put the size of that to­tal con­tri­bu­tion into per­spec­tive, Fon­terra, New Zealand’s largest com­pany, has a turnover of $19.2b. The cost of that turnover dom­i­nates our coun­try. More than 2m hectares of land are closed to pub­lic ac­cess and de­voted to grow­ing grass to feed 6.5m cows.

The runoff of fer­tilis­ers im­ported to keep that grass grow­ing makes many of our wa­ter­ways unswimmable. In 2016, agri­cul­ture ac­counted for 50 per cent of the coun­try’s green­house gas emis­sions.

Were the coun­try ever to find it­self with the chance to recre­ate its econ­omy from scratch, it would be il­log­i­cal to choose dairy. But it would cer­tainly choose tourism. It di­rectly em­ploy­ees 231,000 peo­ple and an­other 170,000 in­di­rectly. There is no big­ger em­ployer.

In­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors bring $40m in for­eign ex­change ev­ery day. Do­mes­tic tourism con­trib­utes an­other $59m each day. Even if you don’t work in the in­dus­try, you reap the re­wards of this eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity through its tax con­tri­bu­tion to Govern­ment cof­fers.

Its con­tri­bu­tion is only go­ing to get big­ger. That in­evitably means more tourists, and a greater need to make sure they have a great time when they’re here.

Com­mu­ni­ties around the coun­try need to recog­nise the ben­e­fits in this, and treat the reg­u­la­tion of tourism ac­cord­ingly.

Rather than ban­ning free­dom campers from scenic spots, why not build the in­fra­struc­ture so they can use it with min­i­mal im­pact. Fa­cil­i­tate, rather than alien­ate. Af­ter all, tourists don’t have to choose New Zealand as a des­ti­na­tion.

For all our self-gen­er­ated hype of what a unique and un­spoiled place this coun­try is, there are many com­peti­tors with sim­i­lar fea­tures and a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion of tourists.

And they gen­er­ally don’t re­quire a $2000 plane ticket to get there.

‘‘Tourists re­ally are this coun­try’s golden goose . . . we should ac­cept there will be a cost to their con­tri­bu­tion and be pre­pared to shoul­der that bur­den.’’

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