New Zealand wants to “reset” tourism for a post COVID-19 world by planning for fewer international visitors and diversifying the economies of tourism-dependent towns, in order to protect the environment.
What is Happening?
- Some of the country’s best-known natural attractions, such as Milford-Sound Piopiotahi, will be transformed to take far fewer tourists. It previously saw around 870 000 visitors a year, but tourism minister Stuart Nash says that the site “cannot return to its pre-COVID state,” saying that mass tourism has undermined the infrastructure and cultural and environmental values of the place.
- According to Tourism Industry Aotearoa, tourism makes up about 20% of total exports, representing the largest export industry in the country. Tourism spend also accounts for more than 5% of GDP, and indirectly or directly employs 13.6% of the national workforce.
- New Zealand has been shut to all international tourists for the better part of a year (before the trans- Tasman travel bubble allowed for quarantine-free travel with Australia was launched in March) and during that time, Nash has said that government would attempt to transform the country’s tourism offering- focusing on attracting a smaller number of “high-value” visitors and trying to ease the environmental burden that crowds of tourists placed on small towns.
- The government has yet to define exactly what a “high-value” tourist is, but research by Wellington social enterprise GOOD Travel has shown that these tourists should “share New Zealand’s value of environmental guardianship, hospitality and welcoming and connection and belonging.”
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In March, Nash said, “The reality is that we have a responsibility to take an intergenerational view of the role of tourism in New Zealand. It can’t go back to how it was. Unsustainable tourism levels put far too much undue pressure on communities and our natural attractions and many communities have struggled to absorb.”
- The government’s plan includes a $200 million package, more than half of which will go to struggling South Island towns hit hard by the border closure. In addition to supporting some businesses to reopen when visitors return, large chunks of the funding would be devoted to helping businesses to break their dependence on international tourists. $20 million would go to the Queenstown Wanaka region to help develop alternative industries, while another $15 million would go to the Milford Sound-Piopiotahi.
- Simon Upton, the parliamentary commissioner for the environment, has recommended a departure tax for all international flights to ease the environmental damage inflicted by tourism. The money raised- an estimated $400 million annually- would go to researching lower-emissions aviation, and mitigating the effects of the climate crisis across the Pacific.
Featured image by: Flickr