PRISTINE, POPULAR… IMPERILLED?

The primary goal of tourism is to benefit Aotearoa, so the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s new report is a valuable contribution to achieving the future New Zealanders want, according to Tourism Industry Aotearoa.

The Commissioner’s report Pristine, Popular…Imperilled? The Environmental Consequences of Projected Tourism Growthacknowledges the tourism industry’s efforts to address environmental, social and cultural issues.

“Nobody wants tourism at all costs. The industry creates business opportunities and jobs, attracts foreign exchange and investment, and adds vibrancy to communities around the country,” said the TIA’s chief executive Chris Roberts.

“But we want to work with our communities to shape the tourism future they want.”

Importantly, the report notes that the majority of tourism activity in New Zealand is by New Zealanders and our growing resident population also brings pressures.

It is impossible to predict with any accuracy how many domestic and international visitors there may be in 2050, said Roberts. The industry has no target for how many visitors there should be – rather, it has targets for economic contribution, environmental enhancement, visitor experience and community support.

“If we protect and enhance the environment, have thriving businesses that share the benefits with our communities and deliver outstanding visitor experiences, then we will have the right number of visitors for New Zealand.”

TIA agrees with the Commissioner’s finding that new approaches will be needed to manage the environmental impact of tourism.

Initiatives like the Tiaki Promise and the New Zealand Tourism Sustainability Commitment have been enthusiastically adopted by the industry, with almost 1300 businesses now signed up to the latter.

The TSC has the vision of Leading the World in Sustainable Tourism. To deliver on this vision the tourism industry must contribute to restoring, protecting and enhancing our natural environment, while continuing to be a high quality destination for international and domestic travelers and creating economic success that is shared with supportive host communities.

The report notes that ‘the impact of visitors is often inextricably tied up with the day-to-day life of New Zealanders… we have no systematic way of quantifying the environmental and cultural impacts of tourism’ (page 55).

According to Roberts, given the lack of data, the Commissioner has relied on anecdotal evidence – primarily media coverage, which is a highly unreliable way of assessing impact, especially in a rapidly evolving media landscape often driven by ‘click bait’ and social media influencers.

“The report is more useful where it focuses on future outcomes and options,” he said.

The Commissioner has asked TIA to formally respond to the report early in the new year.