The recent case of a foreign tourist, caught out using a beach near Thames for a toilet, may have horrified some people but for many others, particularly in remote rural areas, it is something they see and deal with far too often.
The young woman was fined $400 for the offence but she can probably be seen as a victim of circumstances beyond her control. In her defence she is claimed to have said she was travelling in a self-contained van with others but they were still sleeping. With no public toilets nearby she probably had little option, as disgusting as the incident may have been.
The base cause of the problem appears to be two fold. Firstly we have far too many camper vans, privately owned and rentals, certified as self-contained with on board toilets but which failed to meet minimum standards. Some rental companies also offer a discount or partial refund if their vehicles are returned with the on-board toilet unused.
There is also evidence that many freedom camper vans carry self-containment certificates when there is in fact no on-board toilet at all and not all offenders are foreign tourists.
Compounding the issue of inadequate ablution facilities for the travelling public is our largely unregulated tourism industry with no end in sight to growing numbers of visitors to these shores each year.
While tourism hot spots enjoy growing profits, too many other communities are faced with picking up the cost, not just in trying to provide essential basic services for the growing hordes but also the loss of intrinsic value of their home environment.
No one it seems wants to ask the question; why should ratepayers fund this self-serving exploitative and damaging industry over and above any other industry?
Most of our district councils appear to lack the courage, common sense or ability to tell the tourist industry to fund their own promotions and provide the facilities their foreign customers need. When regional councils spend ratepayers money it is generally to mitigate and control the adverse impacts of agriculture and other industries. When the Government spends millions of taxpayers dollars monitoring and controlling the fishing industry it is to ensure fish stocks are protected from over harvest. Only the tourism industry it seems assumes the right to demand public funding for essential infrastructure they create the need for.
Two years ago the previous government made an extra $5.5m available for new tourism facilities with an increase from $12m to $17.5m to help pay for toilets, carparks and waste disposal systems. The money was ear marked from an under-spent fund for the development of high quality visitor attractions.
It is well known that paying for these essential tourism facilities is well beyond the resources of most local communities. Many smaller district councils struggle to provide essential infrastructure for their own ratepayers let alone massive increases for an industry which brings little in the way extra rates to pay for them.
Rather than assume we need to making public funding available for tourism infrastructure perhaps we need to put urgent and effective constraints on the tourism industry to protect New Zealand from the ravages of visiting hordes while there is still something of our wild and special places left to protect.
Too many small communities have fallen in the trap of assuming tourism will be good for them. It wont be without effective checks and balances.
A visit to Milford Sound at the height of the summer tourism season will shock and sadden those unprepared for the spectacle of over-crowding at was once a remote and beautiful place. Also in summer funeral processions of dangerous campervan drivers on highways, human waste on our bush tracks and many scenic places closed to locals all thanks in part to unmitigated tourism which assumes the right to dip into the pockets of ratepayers and taxpayers to fund their industry.
Some in the tourism industry claim tourism brings jobs and extra money that eventually flows into the nations economy. This is far from the truth. All that many communities get from tourists is the cost of cleaning up after them and most jobs in the industry are at the lowest end of the pay scale.
Without doubt tourism is important to our economy but, like the overgrown dairy industry, we need constraints to bring some balance to the situation or we risk irreparable damage to the very things tourists come here to see. We also risk dispossessing New Zealanders, whose heritage is being exploited by unmitigated tourism. There is also the real risk that ordinary New Zealanders, who by tradition have been welcoming and tolerant of tourists, will soon start to show their resentment as has happened in parts of Europe. The welcome mat will be withdrawn and the New Zealand smile will be replaced by open hostility. We dont need more taxpayer and ratepayer investment in tourism, we need fewer tourists. Not just a few hundred fewer but tens of thousands fewer while there is still time. That could be accomplished by a limited number if visitor visas available each year.