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Freedom Campers not invited

November 29, 2020

The recent announcement from newly appointed Tourism Minister Stuart Nash that he will ban freedom camping in vehicles that are not self-contained has come like a bucket of cold reality to many in the tourism industry.

The minister is the first in a long time to heed the many calls from throughout the country for the industry to be reeled in and reset to be less harmful to the New Zealand environment and less costly to taxpayers and ratepayers. 

The minister made it very clear that he was looking at innovative ways to ensure taxpayers and ratepayers will not continue to pay for tourism’s impact on infrastructure and the environment. He was also clear that he was not closing New Zealand to those tourists who were not wealthy but they will not be the target market and that every tourist that comes to New Zealand will pay for the New Zealand experience.

For decades New Zealanders have complained about tourism overload, human waste on walking tracks roadsides and the spoiling of our special places by hordes of visitors. These people will welcome the minister’s determination to take advantage of the absence of overseas tourists to make the changes the industry has refused to even contemplate.

Until now no one wanted to explain to ratepayers why they should fund essential infrastructure for the exploitative and damaging tourism industry over and above any other industry.

Our district councils appear to lack the courage, common sense or ability to tell the tourist industry to fund their own promotions. 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 dip into ratepayers’ pockets for promotion and to meet the demand for essential infrastructure they create. There was even a recent suggestion that the Government should issue every New Zealander with a cash loaded credit card to spend on domestic tourism. 

While 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, waste disposal and minor water projects the money will come from an under-spent fund for the development of high-quality visitor attractions. That funding decision recognised the fact that paying for tourism projects was well beyond the resources of local communities. Many smaller district councils struggle to provide essential infrastructure for their ratepayers let alone massive increases for an industry which brings little in the way extra rates to pay for them.  

There has long been a 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 to protect. 

A case in point is Matamata where the Hobbiton set from the Lord of the Rings movie series is attracted increasing numbers tourists. While some businesses, established to take advantage of the situation, were doing well others in the community became frustrated and angry. Increased traffic flows and too many visitors put a strain on existing infrastructure, from public toilets to car parking. 

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.         

Up until now those who have warned that a lack of adequate infrastructure, particularly public toilets was becoming a serious problem were simply ignored by an industry totally focused on profit regardless of the damage to the environment and risks to tourists. The Erebus disaster and White Island tragedy are but two examples. 

Tourism leaders will probably plead that tourism brings jobs and extra money that eventually flows into the nation’s economy. This is far from the truth and we can say that about all industries but they don’t come demanding millions of dollars to support them. 

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. If there is one positive effect from the horrors of Covid-19 it is a rare opportunity to bring some much-needed constraint to the tourism industry while there are no visitors in the country. We have waited a long time for a minister of tourism with the courage to grasp that opportunity     

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