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Company fined for illegal tours

Tourism company Active Planet 2015 Ltd has been fined a total of $12,000 for illegally guiding on public conservation land, including two national parks.

Active Planet specialised in tours for international students across the north and south islands.

The company was prosecuted by the Department of Conservation and pled guilty in October 2018 to commercial guiding without authorisation at Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve, Pancake Rocks in Paparoa National Park, and at Blue Pools in Mount Aspiring National Park.

Active Planet was fined $4000 on each charge by Judge Kevin Phillips sitting at Pukekohe District Court on March 3.

Marta Lang Silveira, DOC’s national compliance manager, says DOC rangers and compliance officers had spoken with the company on a number of occasions prior to October 2018. DOC asked the company to apply for a concession (a permit to operate) after learning it was guiding commercially in a wide range of conservation areas, none of which it held a concession for. It did not complete the application process, but continued to run tours illegally.

Judge Phillips commented that Active Planet had been informed of the need for a concession by DOC, making this offending blatant and premeditated. The Judge noted that the fine in this case reflected the company’s financial circumstances and in other cases much higher penalties may be imposed.

"DOC monitors and manages tourism concessions so it is fair for everyone and supports conservation. This judgment highlights that the rules need to be followed," Marta says.

"Concessions help DOC protect New Zealand’s conservation land, and the visitor experience, by managing impact and visitor numbers. People come to New Zealand because they want to see our amazing places and species. We want to share this, but there can be an impact when commercial companies guide customers to busy hotspots in an unmanaged way.

"Through concessions DOC can set limits on how many people tourism operators can take into an area over a period of time. This is publicly owned land, and DOC has a responsibility, on behalf of the public, to manage commercial activity on it.

"When people don’t follow the rules, it’s unfair to the many business who do, and it puts iconic tourist stops at risk of overcrowding." The maximum penalty a court can impose for guiding for commercial purposes without a concession is a fine of up to $300,000, or imprisonment of individuals for up to five years.

Companies or individuals wishing to operate a business or commercial activity on public conservation lands and waters need a concession from DOC. It is illegal to do so without a concession.

DOC has been boosting its compliance efforts, including running a summer compliance programme in tourist hotspots over the last and current summer season.

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