Monday, June 24, 2024
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Reset of tourism could better support the environment – EDS

The Environmental Defence Society has recently released its Tourism and Landscape Protection report which is the first case study published as part of its broader Protected Landscapes Project.

The report is co-authored by EDS policy director Raewyn Peart and EDS solicitor Cordelia Woodhouse.

"Prior to COVID-19, tourism was New Zealand’s number one export earner.Tourists mainly came to see our natural landscapes. But the rapid growth of the industry came at considerable environmental and social cost," says Raewyn.

"While COVID-19 has been truly devastating for tourism, it provides an opportunity to reset the industry onto a much better footing. Government should partner with the sector to transition New Zealand to a more sustainable and resilient model of tourism.

"Tourism is likely to rebound in three phases. The first will be a big surge in domestic tourism when we get to Alert Level 1 as Kiwis relish the new freedom to do road trips. Domestic tourism last year was worth $23 billion – compared with $17 billion for international visitors. So that’ll be a good boost for the economy.

"The second phase will be development of a trans-Tasman bubble which will see Australian tourists return. Last year Australians made up 40 per cent of all international visitors, by far the biggest segment.

"The third and much slower phase will be the rebuild of the rest of the international market, which may take some years," says Raewyn.

"A key finding from our research was a notable lack of scale within tourism institutions to support such a rebuild. With government set to take a bigger role in supporting the sector post COVID-19 we have recommended recreating the Ministry for Tourism.

"In addition, the industry peak body Tourism Industry Aotearoa needs a more solid funding base so it can provide leadership in the rebuild. Other sectors, such as dairy, have statutory levies to fund industry activities and a similar arrangement should be implemented for the tourist industry.

"Funding for tourism infrastructure has been ad hoc, with the burden largely falling on cash strapped councils, despite much of the financial gain from tourism flowing to central government through GST. A fairer and more sustainable funding model needs to be developed as part of the recovery.

"The Department of Conservation’s concession system underpins much of the tourism industry because of the large number of tourists that access public conservation land. Concessions to use public conservation land can be useful tools for linking tourism with positive conservation and landscape outcomes. Because of concerns expressed to us during interviews, we recommend a first-principles review of the concessions system," says Raewyn.

"New Zealand has historically focused on marketing to attract people to visit. We recommend that a much greater focus is now placed on how people visit so as to better manage the impacts of tourism on the environment and local communities.

"A key element of such an approach is supporting the development of ‘slow’ tourism, which enables people to have a much deeper engagement with New Zealand’s landscapes. This includes learning about their history, Ma¬Åori cultural associations and the local communities which derive a livelihood from them.

"As the domestic market rejuvenates, slow tourism may form an important part of reconnecting New Zealanders to their landscapes. This will further serve to highlight the importance of protecting our special places," says Raewyn.

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