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Report from New Zealand’s Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment urges move to sustainable tourism

Report from New Zealand’s Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment urges move to sustainable tourism
February 18, 2021

New Zealand’s Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton, is urging the Government to take advantage of the pause in international tourism to transform the sector to one with a substantially smaller environmental footprint.

With COVID-19 having brought international tourism activity to a halt, threatening the livelihoods and commercial viability of many of New Zealand’s tourism-related businesses, Commissioner Upton suggests that the discontinuity created by the pandemic offers an opportunity to address some of the long-standing environmental and social issues associated with New Zealand’s tourism industry.

Releasing the report, Not 100% - but four steps closer to sustainable tourism, Commissioner Upton suggests “there is broad support for the idea that protecting tourism livelihoods in the short term should not morph into a slow but inexorable return to the status quo in the long term.”

The report presents a set of four policy proposals to combat some of the more pressing environmental challenges faced by tourism:

• Introduce a departure tax that reflects the environmental cost of flying internationally from New Zealand, and use the revenue to support the development of low-emissions aviation technologies and provide a source of climate finance for Pacific Island nations.
• Make any future central government funding for tourism infrastructure conditional on environmental criteria and aligned with mana whenua and the local community’s vision for tourism development.
• Clarify and, where necessary, strengthen the tools the Department of Conservation can use to address the loss of wildness and natural quiet at some of Aotearoa’s most spectacular natural attractions. This includes tightening up rules around commercial activity on conservation lands and waters.
• Strengthen the existing standard for self-contained freedom camping, improve oversight of the certifying process and require rental car agencies to play a greater role in collecting freedom camping infringement fees and fines.

Explaining that any transition will require real changes to business models and individual tourist behaviour, Commissioner Upton stated “these proposals are not 100% of the solution, but together, they just might make a difference.”

Key to the report is that tourists – and the tourism businesses that serve them – should to pay for the cost of the environmental services they use and that the wishes of communities and mana whenua are respected when decisions about new tourism developments are being considered.

Commenting on this, Commissioner Upton noted “tourism’s growth has been built on special attention and subsidies for decades.

“This has been followed by subsidies to cope with the pressures of that growth.

“It is time to consider measures that ask the industry and tourists to meet some of these costs and moderate demand for activities that deliver negative environmental outcomes.”

The Commissioner’s 2019 report Pristine, popular… imperilled? The environmental consequences of projected tourism growth found that tourism is less environmentally benign than it has often been made out to be.

Commenting on the report Tourism Industry Aotearoa Chief Executive, Chris Roberts sees that has identified some long-standing systemic issues and proposed some bold solutions that won’t be universally endorsed but deserve to be debated.

Roberts sees that, in combination with the anticipated report from the Tourism Futures Taskforce and the Department of Conservation’s Heritage and Visitor Strategy released yesterday, the PCE’s ideas will contribute to a robust discussion on the shaping of tourism and how it benefits Aotearoa and New Zealanders

Roberts stated “TIA has long highlighted the need for improved destination management planning. At the local level, the community voice must be heard, and we recommended that regions must have Destination Management Plans in place to be eligible for contestable government funding.

“We have also called for an overhaul of the legislation governing the public conservation estate as the framework put in place over 30 years ago is no longer meeting New Zealand’s conservation, recreation and tourism needs.”

TIA notes that the Commissioner has a strong personal view on noise disturbing natural quiet and this is given a strong emphasis in the report.

Click here to read the Not 100% - but four steps closer to sustainable tourism report.

Click here to read TIA’s submission to the PCE’s initial report. 

Images: Akaroa Harbour (top, credit: Bruno d'Auria/Flickr), overtourism at Roys Peak (middle, credit: Lukas Stefanko/@LukasStefanko/Reddit) and Chris Roberts (below).

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