Submitted 22 September 2020: Read the NZCA's submission to the Tourism Futures Taskforce on the Future of Tourism in Aotearoa.

Submission date: 22 September 2020
Submitted to: Tourism Futures Taskforce

Strengths of the Current Tourism System

What are the strengths, or emerging strengths of the Tourism system (now, or prior to COVID-19)?

The New Zealand Conservation Authority (NZCA) was established under the Conservation Act 1987, with members appointed by the Minister of Conservation, to act as an independent advisor on conservation matters of national importance. It should be recognised that the NZCA is the primary voice for conservation on this Tourism Futures Taskforce Advisory Group (TFTAG).

The single largest strength of the tourism industry of Aotearoa has been, and always will be, the inherent natural beauty of Papatūānuku. The conservation assets, particularly Public Conservation Land (PCL) and National Parks (NPs), protect this beauty of environment which underpins the success of the tourism industry in Aotearoa. 

Covid-19 has revealed the value of nature in wellbeing, and the current closed borders have led many to explore more of their own country, discovering and appreciating what was taken for granted before. This is an opportunity to align policies, funding, and action to ensure that Aotearoa is protected and the engagement of people with nature is encouraged.

There has been a failing of environmentally sustainable strategies in the tourism industry; instead, economic drive has caused environmental degradation. Emerging strategies, such as ‘tiaki promise’, are initiatives of positive change, but these need to be paired with critical and decisive action and be embedded in tourism systems if both the future of tourism and the environment are to thrive.

Aotearoa is based on a relationship founded in the Treaty/Te Tiriti and from this the NZCA supports partnership in the approach to conservation and any tourism activity on PCL; in addition, Māori culture is unique to Aotearoa and, from a tourism perspective, provides a point of difference. There has been an emerging enabling of cultural tourism that aims to authentically and respectfully reflect Māori knowledge of the natural environment.

The combination of accessible natural beauty and unique Māori culture has defined Aotearoa as an attractive holiday destination that generates high visitor satisfaction levels for both international and domestic travel. Further to this, the recent success in the positively perceived handling of crises has generated an enhanced global profile, with higher awareness of, and interest in visiting Aotearoa.  

The cause and effect of tourism is inevitably intertwined with our natural and cultural environment, and as such, the plans for the re-emerging tourism industry must align with protecting and enhancing the unique conservation values of Aotearoa. We presently have a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to re-set how we manage tourism to ensure we protect and enhance our natural environment.

What are important next steps (if any) to preserve or grow these strengths?

There is a need for the tourism industry to recognise, in full, their reliance on the natural environment, and the quantum shift required to embed environmentally sustainable strategies into their practice. The inherent value of our natural environment must drive the development of plans to reform tourism in Aotearoa. In order to protect this environment, the following steps must be taken:

  • Treaty partnerships and relationships must be prioritised, as this will be central to further enhance the platform for iwi and hapū to continue the development of tourism pertaining to the whenua, moana, tangata and wairua of our country.
  • The existing conservation legislation, plans, and strategies, which guide the access to and use of PCL, must be correctly resourced, prioritised, and adhered to. The tourism industry must be required to be familiar with these documents in detail, respect their provisions, and how important they are for the ongoing protection of our natural and cultural heritage. The industry must work within the plans to benefit both our natural and cultural heritage and tourism.
  • The tourism industry needs to acknowledge that the Department of Conservation's primary role is to protect our natural and cultural environment.
  • The Government must be proactive in a destination management approach to tourism through centralised standards, in order to provide for a strongly represented voice of conservation, tangata whenua, and communities in tourism.
  • The Government must invest substantially in biodiversity protection; understanding that nature is a platform that drives social, mental, and physical wellbeing, as well as tourism.
  • The existing domestic and short-haul market must be encouraged; this is an area that is more resilient to adversity, produces lower carbon emission, provides for good seasonal and regional spread, and, often, domestic and short haul visitors have greater appreciation for the environment and local culture of Aotearoa.
  • TFT must develop a more in depth understanding of the true economic, socio-cultural, and environmental impacts of tourism in Aotearoa. This increased research and modelling will better provide for strategic and conscientious decision making.

Challenges the tourism system is facing or will face

What are the challenges or areas of the tourism system most in need of addressing (now, or prior to COVID-19)? What would your top three areas for focus be?

1. Climate Crisis

Climate change poses the largest challenge to the future of all systems, and is resulting in greater global instability politically, economically, socially, and environmentally. The effects have been felt nationally through an increasing intensity and frequency of storm events, the impacts of which weigh heavily on both the biodiversity and the tourism sector of Aotearoa.

Going forward, the cost of travel is likely to increase due to carbon off setting regarding flights; and increasing flight shaming is also expected to depress international travel demand. 

2. Health of Environment

The health of the environment is not only compromised by climate change, but also the inevitable re-emergence of international tourism to Aotearoa. The need to protect the environment, for the long-term benefits of all, will be a challenge for a growing tourism sector.

We must avoid placing the environment, and intertwined social and cultural aspects of Aotearoa, under pressure from increasing visitor numbers, as has been the case in the past. If this is not at the forefront of TFT’s thinking, there is a high risk that the very attributes that attract people to Aotearoa will be irreversibly eroded.

3. Reducing yield

In recent decades, international visitor average spend in real terms has reduced and the seasonal spread of visitation has not been improved; the employment opportunities in the tourism sector are therefore inevitably filled by overseas seasonal workers, and unable to offer stable employment for New Zealanders.

The tourism sector is also characterised by high leakage, as much of the profitable activity is provided by parties external to Aotearoa; for example, booking commissions via agents; online aggregate booking platforms based overseas; the high use of international airlines; employment of overseas seasonal workers; foreign ownership of Aotearoa tourism businesses; high imported fuel component.

For each of your three challenges/areas mentioned above, what actions would you like to see implemented?

1. Climate Crisis

There is a need for all tourism businesses to fully and honestly assess their environmental footprint and determine long term sustainable practice. This assessment must include the considerable emissions from international air travel. Aotearoa must take effective action to transition to becoming carbon neutral.  

There should be a requirement to report this annually with a plan of radical reduction. There is the opportunity to offer overseas visitors' engagement in environmental work to balance the carbon effects of their travel. 

2. Protect the environment

There is a need for more government direction in evaluating the levers it has available for environmental safeguarding, such as legislation, policies, and plans, and utilising these effectively.

Whilst the tourism industry makes a positive contribution to New Zealand’s economy, and brings other socio-cultural benefits, there are negative effects of the industry, such as environmental impacts and being a low wage sector, that make apparent that it is not in the long-term interest of Aotearoa to become the dominant industry.

The NZCA proposes the establishment of a national body to oversee and advise on infrastructure needed to address the requirements of high visitation sites, and to enhance tourism in emerging regions.

The NZCA proposes that the TFT review New Zealand’s open skies policy for airlines, and policies regarding cruise ships visits, to provide exercised control over visitor numbers.

On this note, and with foresight of the Covid-19 pandemic having a prolonged presence globally; limiting numbers of new tourism arrivals should also be considered to ensure systems, such as health, and businesses can cope with outbreaks. This strict management of the virus must be accounted for in the short to medium term planning of the tourism industry.

3. Improve profitability

There is a need to better understand tourism revenue generation and retention, with a focus on attracting higher yielding visitors. There should be investigation into areas where tourism can generate increased revenue, for example, the possibility of charging international visitors for access to icon sites in national parks, and the opportunity to increase the International visitor levy.

The profitability of both lowest and highest spending visitor sectors is low for differing reasons. Higher spending visitors usually have a corresponding higher environmental footprint due to the types of transport, accommodation, and sightseeing activity preferences. Lower spending visitors usually travel over a longer period, with a larger spread of visitation and so activities such as freedom camping require improved regulation if the negative impacts are to be reduced.

The ideal tourism system

What positive change would you like to see embedded into the tourism system in 10 to 15 years (e.g. values, ways of operating)? Please share up to three.

The NZCA supports the TFT in their work to reflect, re-evaluate, and reimagine a new approach to tourism in Aotearoa; however, the NZCA urges the TFT to recognise that decisions made here will shape the future of Aotearoa beyond tourism. The tourism industry is woven into the fabric of Papatūānuku and affects all those in Aotearoa. The ideal future tourism system will recognise and respect this, and so value the health of the environment and people above all else.

1. A respect for environmental health

All tourism activity in the conservation space will be regenerative, adding value to the land rather than reducing it, and all citizens and visitors will understand and endeavour to be kaitiaki of Aotearoa.

Properly accredited tourism operators will be kaitiaki of our cultural and environmental taonga. They will act as conservation ambassadors throughout the country, adding value to tourist's experiences whilst keeping a watchful eye on compliance. This demonstration of environmental values will be clear to all visitors, who will, in turn, mirror this respect for environment and people.

2. Value of experience

The genuine quality of experiences will be the focus of all tourist providers, to ensure unique experiences for visitors in a higher wage tourism economy.

There will be an assurance to New Zealanders of their ability to explore and enjoy their own country, especially regarding access to public conservation lands and waters. This is a pivotal time of change in which New Zealanders are establishing or re-discovering a connection with their own country; domestic tourism will play a key role in reforming the industry.

3. A shift to long-term vision

There will be an adoption of longer-term timeframes in decision making, and a shift away from short-term focus. A more proactive approach will be taken to establish desired visitor arrival numbers and manage mitigation of their effects.

The ideal future tourism system of Aotearoa will set an example to the world on how best to provide a symbiotic future between mana whenua in conservation and tourism, providing a welcoming and respectful culture for visitors and communities alike.

What needs to happen to enable this positive change? e.g. what changes would be required? Are there limitations or barriers the Taskforce should consider? Are there existing documents, strategies, or processes that would be useful for the Taskforce?

This is a unique opportunity to pivot the value set and principles of the tourism sector to be one that puts more emphasis on the authentic experience and environmental outcomes, and less on the volume of numbers of visitors. A focus on improving the quality of our environment, biodiversity, and ecosystems will be required to combat the longer-term risks involved with climate change, another global crisis that will have significant effect in the context of rebuilding our tourism industry. Now is the time to carry out some honest reassessments of our real situation and strive for smarter and more forward-thinking outcomes.

A Destination Management approach must be adopted in order to consider community aspirations at place. This independent input and facilitation is essential to providing local community members a voice particularly in high tourism areas.

In the work of the TFT, it will be important to establish a Technical Advisory Group to test the various models produced, and establish which strategies provide the greatest benefit to the future of tourism, in balance with the immediate and long-term environmental health of Aotearoa. It will be vital for conservation organisations to be a part of this Technical Advisory Group.

In reassessing these priorities, the existing framework to protect the environment must be respected and complied with; there must be a cohesion with the new emerging tourism sector with conservation if both are to thrive.

Existing Conservation policies and plans that TFT will need to consider include:

  • Conservation General Policy
  • General Policy for National Parks
  • Conservation Management Strategies
  • National Park Management Plans
  • Aotearoa NZ Biodiversity Strategy 2020
  • Predator Free 2050 Strategy (Towards a predator free NZ)
  • Tiakina Ngā Manu
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