Leading image: Anchorage, Abel Tasman National Park
This is a post by Paul Callister and Heidi O’Callahan
Tourism in New Zealand has suffered under Covid 19. As the Queenstown mayor says:
We must diversify our economy. We must also consider the negative side of global tourism and the concern for the effects of mass tourism on our communities and our environment. In the future, we must do things differently…
we need to do all we can to welcome Kiwis here.
Given these uncertain times, planning to rebuild tourism needs to involve scenario mapping. This can highlight the investment options likely to provide multiple benefits regardless of how the future unfolds. We should aim for more secure employment, better opportunities through enhanced transport systems and far better care of the environment.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton, released a report on sustainable tourism just late last year, entitled
Pristine, popular… imperilled? The environmental consequences of projected tourism growth
He identified many challenges and pressures in the sector:
- freedom camping,
- visitor density and loss of natural quiet,
- low pay in some areas of the sector,
- the very high carbon footprint of NZ tourism through long haul flights and cruise lines,
- local degradation of landscapes, water quality and biodiversity.
He discussed growth in the sector, plus factors that could interrupt it:
unforeseen events – the outbreak of a global pandemic, regional conflict, the spread of protectionism or an economic downturn – could also detract from continued growth
This year has shown how strategic planning for such unforeseen events is crucial.
It’s not difficult to see why the challenges have arisen. Visitor arrivals had been growing rapidly, from just 465,000 arrivals in 1980 to 3.9 million in the year ended December. This was a significant influx in relation to New Zealand’s resident population. By 2019, there were just 1.3 residents for every arrival over the year.
Source: Base data Infoshare, Statistics New Zealand
Overseas travel by New Zealanders was growing strongly in recent years, too. In 1990 there were 720 thousand trips overseas. This had risen to just over 3 million in the year ended December 2019.
Source: Base data Infoshare, Statistics New Zealand
It’s hard to see which period on the graph we would consider ‘business-as-usual’.
The view of Mt Ruapehu from the InterCity coach. Image Credit: Chris McKellar
The Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis has announced that the Government and industry are working together on a plan to restart tourism.
Davis said he expected to receive advice on the recovery plan in the next two weeks with Tourism New Zealand (TNZ) leading the project and getting input from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the Department of Conservation and industry.
The Department of Conservation appears to be the environmental voice here. Alongside its conservation activities, it has been pushed into a tourism role in recent years.
The view of the Rangitikei River from the Northern Explorer. Image credit: Chris McKellar
Simon Upton has offered his assistance with planning for this recovery, in a letter that stresses the need to focus on the long-term, and questions whether the taskforce is equipped to allow for strategic thinking:
any process of reflection needs to resist the temptation to go back to old ways. TNZ’s statutory mandate and primary area of expertise is marketing. Its role in the broader tourism policy landscape is limited. ‘Reimagining’ the way we govern tourism, how and to whom we market New Zealand and how we manage our visitors requires a different perspective.
Air New Zealand’s Cam Wallace (one of the tourism ‘leaders’ uniting to show support, and presumably on the taskforce), said:
But we do have a sense of confidence Air NZ will re-emerge from this crisis bigger and better.
This is a curious statement that doesn’t align with the country’s pressing environmental and social challenges. We need aviation to contract from what it was, not expand. Our emissions must drop radically by 2030, well before technological advances in aeroplane emissions will be developed and widespread.
New Zealand already has one of the highest CO2 emissions per capita from aviation in the world, primarily based on international travel. Most of this CO2 is ‘hidden’ from the general public as international emissions are not generally counted in official publications.
In transport, the modes with the most rapidly rising emissions are light trucks (which include double cab utes) and international aviation. Domestic aviation emissions had been declining, a trend that changed 5 years ago, and the latest figures show the year’s increase was 12%.
Cars are the biggest contributors to New Zealand’s transport emissions. In the following graph, aviation emissions do not include the radiative forcing effect. Once this is included, the effect of the international aviation emissions is approximately double what is shown, meaning aviation in total contributes roughly the same amount as our cars do.
Not shown is national and international shipping.
When planning how the sector could be rebuilt, the figures for tourism pre Covid-19 are useful:
- International tourism in NZ: $17.1 billion
- Domestic tourism in NZ: $23.7 billion
- New Zealanders holidaying and business overseas: $6.5 billion (plus flights).
- GDP in the same March year was $303.4 billion
Simon Upton advised Kelvin Davis:
The pressures I identified are, as the industry repeatedly reminds us, not just a result of overseas visitor growth. The consequences of domestic growth are significant too…
In the longer term, sustainable tourism will involve lower international tourist numbers than what we had before. In the short to medium term New Zealanders’ holidaying needs must be prioritised, due to the risks of Covid 19 being reintroduced.
But both short and long term we need to work towards low carbon lifestyles. Tourism can be part of a responsible lifestyle, if the options on offer are low-carbon, and travellers are aware of their own carbon budgets. Can we do this while establishing an economically viable industry?
View of Mt Ngauruhoe from InterCity Coach. Image Credit: Chris McKellar
It’s important to note that the dependence on international tourism was not equally spread across New Zealand. Overall, regions in the South Island have been far more dependent than those in the north, especially the West Coast and Otago:
Source: MBIE, Tourism dashboard. Blue indicates North Island regions, red South Island.
Other countries are coaxing their populations to travel domestically. The Czech Republic has closed its borders to tourists and is drafting a proposal to incentivise domestic tourism:
so that no new wave of infection is caused by travellers going to countries where the epidemic is not yet over… I think that our citizens could use this situation in order to enjoy the beauties of their own country,
If our goal is to increase sustainable domestic tourism, New Zealand will need to overcome our lack of low-carbon transport options.
In recent times, aviation has been considered the best option, but we’re facing a climate emergency. To tip the balance towards more sustainable transport options, air ticket prices should be set to recoup the full costs of flying, including carbon emissions and keeping airports open.
The taskforce needs to consider alternatives to subsidising airports and airlines. Establishing lower carbon transport networks to serve multiple goals (eg rail improvements that would both form the backbone of an improved public transport network and of an improved freight network) would serve us better in the future under most scenarios.
Currently, the rail network is too slow and expensive to appeal to most northerners considering a South Island holiday, unless they have a lot of time to spare at either end of the holiday.
Source: Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Northern Explorer near Waiouru.JPG, Created: 19 November 2012
We’ve been campaigning for a shift to a low carbon national public transport network throughout New Zealand. Improvements required to make it work include:
- Better train stations, bus stops and interchanges, including in Auckland.
- Better lower-emission buses, that carry bikes, are accessible for people of all mobility levels, and have adequate handwashing and toilet facilities.
- An overnight train between Auckland and Wellington. Coordinated with ferry and a day time train between Picton and Dunedin, this would cut the Auckland to Dunedin travel time down to 24 hours, without missing out on any of the scenic South Island scenery.
- Evidence-based decision making by Government, acknowledging the environmental and regional access benefits of public transport, and Government’s role in coordinating the sector.
- Far safer walking and cycling amenity throughout the country, with smaller towns and cities geared up for bike hire and cycle tourism. This is needed so passengers can reach bus stops and train stations safely and also make holidays in smaller towns and cities without a car more feasible.
Safety is also an issue when considering domestic holidays by car or campervan. Our dangerous open road network should be improved before domestic tourism by vehicle is encouraged too much. NZTA is undertaking many open road safety improvement projects, but we could achieve a massive step up in safety from adjusting the default open road speed limits to be in line with Vision Zero.
For sustainability, these longer vehicle trips would ideally be in electric vehicles. Both electric car rental and electric campervan rental is available, which is handy both for people who have gone car-free in the city or who would like to try driving an electric vehicle on a holiday, before they buy their own.
Rotorua’s Inter-regional bus stop beside the i-Site. Image credit: Chris McKellar
There is already a push to open the borders again to enable tourism:
By June/July, Australians could be enjoying ski activities in Queenstown while New Zealanders enjoy some great deals on the wine trail in the Barossa Valley.
As shown in Hokkaido, restrictions shouldn’t be eased too soon. Some of the risks go well beyond public health risks from Covid itself. If slightly relaxing the border control results in the odd outbreak of the virus, it will create unease in the population around using any public transport and around having holidays domestically. The big losers could be:
- tourism operators trying to appeal to the domestic market,
- regional public transport operators like InterCity,
- public transport in urban areas, and therefore the entire modeshift strategy, thus:
- New Zealand’s overall climate response and modeshift plans.
The better alternative to opening up to international tourists early is to concentrate on domestic tourism and all the investments that would support it. Passenger rail and regional bus, environmental repair, cycling routes and safer local street networks throughout New Zealand. This would benefit all New Zealanders, including bringing lifestyle benefits and opportunities to tourism operators and their families.
The Northern Explorer. Image Credit: Chris McKellar
We have a clean slate for planning a better tourism industry. The taskforce to restart tourism should include experts in a number of fields:
- Social development
- Transport planning
- Climate change, including the Climate Commission
- Tourism-related local environment issues (such as the Environmental Defence Society who released a report yesterday called Tourism and Landscape Protection)
- Key stakeholders from passenger rail and inter-regional bus
And clearly, with his work already done to help inform good strategic and sustainable planning at this critical time, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment should be involved.
International flights, before coronavirus and now: pic.twitter.com/aYzqQVqcDb
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) April 23, 2020