Industry leaders and world experts on one of the biggest challenges facing the tourism industry will gather in Queenstown next month for the second annual Otago Tourism Policy School.
Hosted by the University of Otago Department of Tourism on March 19-20, co-director Professor James Higham hopes the event could help New Zealand lead the world in starting the 'overdue discussion' on the policy school’s topic, decarbonising tourism and moving towards a sustainable emissions path.
"The reality is tourism is very energy intensive and carries a high carbon burden," he says.
"In the New Zealand context, long haul aviation and the high carbon footprint associated with that is a difficult challenge for us. Our main markets all involve very long flights to and from New Zealand."
While that problem does not appear to have any quick solutions – "electric air travel is quite some time off" – we can focus on such things as how tourists experience New Zealand when they are in the country, James says.
"The way tourists travel around New Zealand is easier to address.
"We need to be looking at whether tourists are driving their own vehicles, or using sustainable shared or public transport, such as electric shuttles to visit attractions and electric bikes on cycle trails, with hydrogen-powered buses running between Queenstown and Milford Sound every day.
"There is huge scope for innovation and leadership which is now being shown by tourism businesses and tourism-related sectors."
He says between the increasing scrutiny of New Zealand’s 100% Pure brand and the passing of the Government’s Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill late last year, the policy school is particularly timely.
"So was have the tourism industry in New Zealand that has expressed a commitment to do something and the Government very keen for climate policy."
He says the event co-directors would like to see New Zealand as a world-leader in this "very important" conversation.
"This is very timely opportunity to have a difficult conversation about the elephant in the room. This is something which has been ignored for a long time but is very much front and centre now.
"We have the opportunity to acknowledge these real problems that are facing the world and challenge them and tackle them and not shy away."
About 100 invited people – including policymakers, researchers and industry representatives – are expected at the policy school, which starts with a public lecture on Thursday, March 19, from Professor Susanne Becken of Griffith University.
Susanne is considered one of the world’s leading experts on tourism and climate change, and energy use in tourism.
The Minister of Climate Change, Honourable James Shaw has been invited to speak at the event on Friday, March 20, the morning of the Tourism Policy School, followed by speakers including the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton, Professor Manfred Lenzen, of the University of Sydney, Tourism Industry Aotearoa’s Chris Roberts and Quinton Hall from Ngai Tahu Tourism.
The full programme can be viewed here.