In the next month or two, most holidaying Kiwis will witness first-hand the pressures of burgeoning tourism. Its impacts on infrastructure are obvious; roads, carparks, campsites, conservation honeypots, even recreation access across private land, all are creaking under the load, much of which is down to sheer numbers. The recently-released McKinsey report, commissioned by four large tourism operators makes some user-pays-oriented proposals for alleviating some of the stresses.
It also suggests, casually – appendicised in small print – ‘re-style the Conservation and National Parks Acts’; ‘privatise Great Walks’. The legislation it offhandedly proposes changing to enable tourism was written carefully to protect our special wild places; the Great Walks are routes painstakingly created by generations of New Zealanders through some of the most splendid of those lands. The McKinsey report’s cursory treatment of them hurts.
Federated Mountain Clubs believes we’ve got to plan tourism at a deeper level than that. As a nation, we should stop and think: what do we want from tourism (beyond obvious immediate economic benefit)? What don’t we want from it? What exactly does the much-touted ‘high value tourism’ look like? If visitor numbers are problematic, what controls do we use? If the industry crashed tomorrow, would we be happy with what remained?
It’s crucial that our way ahead in tourism is based on principles that prioritise us, our home here, and our long-term future. Strategy and practical remedies to the industry’s effects on existing infrastructure should follow those.
It’s about being aware and in control. We don’t want to repeat our recent experience chasing and failing to catch runaway downsides of a volume-focussed dairy industry. Because that’s what we could be facing. Tourism is to the Department of Conservation and certain local bodies what dairying was to regional councils not that long ago. The economic enchantment can be fraught with long-lasting drawbacks.
What pillars should our tourism strategy be built on? As the national association of backcountry clubs, FMC represents everyone who goes tramping. It’s our national sport. Our national identity is tied up in Aotearoa’s hills, where the cash economy barely registers. It’s a place of nature on nature’s terms, egalitarian and healthy, a place of adventure, food-gathering, cameraderie, and many stories. New Zealanders’ relationships with and within the great outdoors should unquestionably be safeguarded.
So, a first principle – Kiwis’ unalienable right to all our wild places, free of commercialisation. It’s our place; house rules apply.
What else? DOC’s leadership with much-improved resourcing (it’s presently only 0.45% of Government spending). New Zealand tourism depends heavily on the Department’s collective wisdom and action. With its people’s deep understanding of the lands, species, and facilities they look after, an empowered DOC should be architect of what the conservation space reasonably offers visitors. Tourism experts are obvious leaders in their sphere of flights, bed nights, and cafes; where Aotearoa’s species, recreation, and natural quiet are concerned, conservation experts should guide the way.
A broad frame of reference is needed for imagining a course ahead. The McKinsey authors should have stopped at making recommendations for supplying tourism’s infrastructure basics; their report is s starting point only. Our wild hinterland, governed by the Conservation and National Parks Acts, is in all ways different from the environment of tourist town roadside facilities. Diverse wise heads and voices are required in the planning.
Markets crash, for many reasons. Consider the poor thing a slumped New Zealand tourism industry, based on volume and commercialised conservation spaces, would be. Without ongoing business, superfluous infrastructure would be an issue; but depletion of the mana of our wild lands and backcountry culture at the hands of pecuniary interests would be a greater one entirely. Truly high value tourism will treat us and our place better than that.
Speaking on RNZ following the McKinsey report’s release, tourism consultant David Hammond called for a taskforce to properly plan for the industry’s future. FMC supports the call and will be involved to represent Aotearoa’s backcountry and our place in it, because the freedom of the hills is a part of being a New Zealander.
Jan Finlayson is vice-president of Federated Mountain Clubs, the national association of climbing and tramping clubs. It is a voluntary body representing 20,000 members and 300,000 people recreating annually in New Zealand’s backcountry.