Tolerance key to tourism growth
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.’’