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Increased Great Walks pricing sees fewer tourists but more income
Increased pricing for tourists on some of New Zealand’s Great Walks trails this past summer has meant far fewer tourists but an extra $2.4 million for the Department of Conservation (DOC).
DOC introduced a trial of differential pricing over the summer, with overseas visitors paying $140 a night for a hut on the Milford track, $130 on the Kepler and Routeburn, and $75 a night on the Abel Tasman track.
New Zealanders paid roughly half that, and under 18-year-olds stayed free of charge. As a result, the 2018/19 season saw 31% fewer international adult visitors on the tracks, but 37% more adult New Zealanders compared to the previous year.
Despite the marked changes in visitor numbers - from 42,630 New Zealand adults up to 58,418 and from 104,189 overseas adults down to 71,901 - DOC was playing down the effects of the pricing. The number of New Zealanders using the tracks was the highest they'd been in the last six years.
DOC Pricing and Economics Director Laura White said the Department considered the seven-month trial had gone well, providing "a significant amount of information" and showing differential pricing "has merit as a visitor management tool".
She told RadioNZ “however, we express caution in fully attributing these results to differential pricing as there are a number of other factors that influenced these results (such as weather, a slowing in international visitor growth over the summer, and the short notice of the trial for visitors). This is why we will re-run the trial, unchanged, for 2019/20 season."
White explained that the trial did appear to have been successful in getting people to use some of the country's other walks, but that had not been verified, adding “visitors told us they walked other tracks due to the cost, however the size and significance of this increase could not be determined in the monitoring we undertook on other tracks we considered may be used as a substitute to the four great walks.”
The trial had three objectives:
• Improve access to the Great Walks for people usually resident in New Zealand
• Increase the proportion of costs that are received from international users
• Charge international visitors a fee that more fairly reflects the high value of the experience
White continued "the independent evaluation of the differential pricing trial found the trial met two of its three objectives - increasing access for New Zealand residents to the walks and international visitors contributing more towards the costs of the walks.
"However, the third objective - that the fee more fairly reflected the true value of these experiences - had a more mixed response. New Zealand residents generally supported it but international visitors less so. While we want to ensure access for New Zealand residents on these walks, it's also important we listen to our international guests. Next season's results will inform how we price our experiences longer term."
White added that the extra $2.4 million from the trial would be used to maintain the tracks so the Department could focus its funding on core conservation work.
DOC hired an independent contractor to evaluate the pricing trial.
Routeburn Falls hut image courtesy of DOCs.
2nd April 2019 - Conference explores development of sustainable trails
8th February 2019 - More mountains to climb with plans for development of new National Park
16th September 2018 - $13.2 million to create Otago cycle trail network
25th October 2017 - Milford and Routeburn Guided Walks receive Qualmark Gold Status
15th June 2017 - Record numbers take to New Zealand’s national walking trail
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