Sustainable tourism-the ogre in the room?

Tourism is being portrayed as an “ogre” according to Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult after the release of a report from Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton.

Boult was sceptical of the report saying: “I support anything reasonable that will assist and maintain our environment but tourism is painted fairly negatively in this report.

“That said, my view is that I don't think we will see a return of tourism like post-Covid. I think a significant portion of the world's long-haul airlines have been parked up and will never come back into use again.

“So, with airlines hanging on by their fingernails for financial survival I think it's highly unlikely we will see an increase in long haul airfares. And that will depress international travel.

“But maybe we will get the Nirvana we have wanted, which is fewer tourists with fatter wallets,” Boult said.

Upton is urging the Government to take advantage of the pause in international tourism to transform the sector into one with a substantially smaller environmental footprint.

Covid-19 has brought international tourism activity to a halt, threatening the livelihoods and commercial viability of many of the Queenstown Lakes tourism-related businesses.

But the discontinuity created by Covid-19 also offers an opportunity to address some of the long-standing environmental problems associated with New Zealand’s tourism industry, the report said.

“There is broad support for the idea that protecting tourism livelihoods in the short term should not morph into a slow but inexorable return to the status quo in the long term,” Upton said.

QLDC Deputy Mayor Calum MacLeod agreed: “In 2019 New Zealand reached 4 million tourists. The maxim was summed up in one word by Saatchi & Saatchi - the 100% Pure Campaign. This is as unsustainable as it is unacceptable. We have strived for value over volume for decades – and failed. The value must replace volume.”

 Commissioner Upton presented a set of four proposals to combat some of the more pressing environmental challenges faced by tourism.

·         Introduce a departure tax that reflects the environmental cost of flying internationally from New Zealand.

·         Make any future central government funding for tourism infrastructure conditional on environmental criteria.

·         Clarify the tools the Department of Conservation can use to address the loss of wildness at some of Aotearoa’s most spectacular natural attractions.

·         Strengthen the existing standard for self-contained freedom camping.

” These proposals are not 100 per cent of the solution, but together, they just might make a difference,” Upton said.

Any transition will require real changes to business models and individual tourist behaviour.

Tourists – and the tourism businesses that serve them – should be required to pay for the cost of the environmental services they use, said Upton.

It was also essential that the wishes of communities, such as Central Lakes, are respected when decisions about new tourism developments are being considered.

Waitaki MP Jacqui PM said: “The suggestions raised by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment are interesting, and like anything that starts a debate, are worth further consideration.

“The priority for the tourism sector though must be attracting domestic tourists to alleviate some of the hurt our local businesses are feeling right now.

“The Government also needs to recognise that small, tourism-focused businesses in Wānaka and around Central Otago are doing it incredibly tough as they face another year of anxiety and uncertainty, waiting for the border to re-open. 

“These small, family-owned businesses like our cafes and motels reliant on tourism are struggling and we need to be supporting them in whatever way possible.

“Let’s head closer to home for our holidays in 2021, as it will likely be some time before international tourists return to our shores,” Dean said.

  Lake Wānaka Tourism General Manager Tim Barke said: “The visitor industry in our region and throughout NZ is already well under way with transforming how we look at how it has been traditionally operated, and how it could look like in the future.

“When Covid-19 turned up, many businesses and members of the industry recognised it as an opportunity to review, reimagine, reset and re-plan to ensure we have an industry which:

  • Reflects, protects and continually enhances the lives and lifestyles of our communities, our people, our place and the things we treasure.

  • Through the above, has the opportunity to have longevity and create increasing ongoing net benefit.

“We believe we live in the most special place in the world; we want to ensure that our people, and our place thrives now, and for future generations.”

Read edition 1016 of the Wānaka Sun here.

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