Walking the walk on sustainability

Destination New Zealand has pledged to put environmental and cultural values at the heart of tourism pursuits, where for the first time, its NTO is trudging forward in partnership with the conservation ministry. Find out about the nation’s fervent commitment to its key assets, and how tourism players in the private sector are also doing their part.

Visitor numbers to Mount Cook National Park have exceeded one million for the first time this year

Sustainability is becoming a bigger priority in New Zealand’s tourism sector, with both the public and private sectors eager to uphold indigenous cultural values and preserve the destination for generations to come.

Visitor numbers to Mount Cook National Park have exceeded one million for the first time this year

While tourism has brought tangible economic benefits to the country in recent years, industry stakeholders are now making a concerted effort to incorporate visitor, environmental and community goals in its strategy.

The added weight on sustainable goals is evident in the Tourism Industry Aotearoa’s (TIA) – Aotearoa is the Maori name for New Zealand – Tourism 2025 & Beyond report as well as the New Zealand-Aotearoa Government Tourism Strategy, which was recently unveiled at Trenz 2019.

Chris Roberts, chief executive of TIA, said: “By any measure, New Zealand’s tourism industry has experienced a remarkable period of growth. Visitors and the businesses that service them are making a crucial contribution to the economic and social well-being of cities, towns and regions across (the country).”

Indeed, tourism has been breathing new life into the country’s small towns, with Roberts citing the example of small-town patrol stations and restaurants having managed to survive due to business from tourists.

“A local builder born and bred in Taumarunui reckons he has never seen the town so vibrant. And what does he put that down to? Tourism,” he shared.

Yet, there is another side to this rapid growth. The surge in visitor traffic has introduced strains on both infrastructure as well as labour in some regions.

To safeguard New Zealand’s future, TIA has revised its former Tourism 2025 Growth Framework launched in 2014.

Kelvin Davis, New Zealand tourism minister, said: “We want tourism to improve New Zealanders’ social, cultural, environmental as well as economic well-being. We want tourism growth to be productive, sustainable and inclusive.”

Social, cultural, environmental and economic goals are “not to be traded off against one another”, he asserted. “A well-functioning tourism will see these all working together.”

This will mean building partnerships with the Maori society across all outcomes of the strategy, as well as building a low-emission and climate-resilient economy to support the transition to a ‘clean, green and carbon-neutral’ New Zealand-Aotearoa, Davis elaborated.

“Importantly, (the new tourism strategy) recognises the environment – our cultural capital – as the economic foundation of New Zealand-Aotearoa and growth will need to be created within ecological limits,” the tourism minister declared.

Reflecting the country’s commitment to environmental goals, the tourism strategy was launched together with the Ministry of Conservation for the first time.

Eugenie Sage, minister of conservation, said: “The Department of Conservation (DOC) contributes to the strategy because it’s acknowledging that our natural and cultural heritage is at the heart of our success as a country and society.

“It is our responsibility to help ensure that we have a sustainable visitor industry that protects and cherishes natural and cultural heritage for its own sake and for the present and future generations.”

She shared that the new tourism strategy would enable the government to adopt a more active and coordinated approach to make sustainability a core value in tourism and mitigate the industry’s impacts.

The DOC also sees its role as going beyond providing the infrastructure for recreation in nature or preserving and protecting the natural environment. Sage shared that the department is also working in partnership with the Maori community and businesses to understand and encompass their cultural values.

For example, at Mount Cook, where annual visitor numbers recently reached one million, “the DOC has worked to ensure that facilities are adequate and visitors have access to a safe, high-quality experience, while at the same time the outstanding natural and cultural values of the national park are protected”, according to Sage.

Since 2010, the DOC has invested NZ$16.5 million (US$10.9 million) in facilities including a new visitor centre, road improvements, tracks and additional toilets. Some NZ$122,000 was also spent on repairing the Hooker Valley Track following severe weather damage last March.

To fund the projects, the government has introduced an International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy as of July 1, which requires international visitors staying in the country for less than 12 months to pay a NZ$35 levy. The government expects to generate NZ$350 million in revenue from the new levy over the next five years.

Meanwhile, the industry has increasingly recognised and adopted Maori values of guardianship, hospitality and togetherness.

In November 2018, TIA and six other New Zealand organisations also launched Tiaki, Care for New Zealand, an initiative which encourages international and domestic travellers to act as guardians of New Zealand by following a set of guidelines outlining the ways visitors can preserve and protect the land.

Tourism-related businesses in the country have also been active participants in their efforts to live up to the Tiaki promise.

For example, Malcolm Johns, chief executive of Christchurch Airport, said: “In the past four years we have been investing in activities to decarbonise our business. The priority is on direct emissions for now, (but we plan to) deal with indirect business (in future).

“Since we started, we have removed 90 per cent of our direct emissions and by October this year we would be within touching distance from being (free of) direct emissions in our business.”

However, in the project’s final stages, Johns acknowledged that the airport is faced with the touch challenge of dealing with fuels that fire power engines and emergency back-up generators.

Meanwhile, Air New Zealand is putting its focus on “reductions and innovation – minimising emissions by using fuel more efficiently, and exploring new commercial solutions and technology to stabilise our carbon emissions by 2020”, said chief revenue officer, Cam Wallace.

“One of the most significant ways to reduce emissions is by operating a modern and efficient fleet. We (started operating) 787-9 Dreamliner in 2014 and retired our last Boeing 767 aircraft from our fleet in March 2017.

“We’ve recently introduced three A320neos and six A321neos. New-generation engines, fuel-efficient Sharklet wingtip devices and approximately 25 per cent more seats mean the neos are expected to help deliver fuel savings and efficiencies of at least 15 per cent compared with the aircraft they’re replacing,” he revealed.

Despite the progress made in cutting emissions, Air New Zealand is still some way off from being entirely emissions free, admitted Wallace.

“The reality is that there will be a limit to the efficiencies we can make, and despite an extensive global search, aviation biofuel supply at the scale we need for our operations is still a way off,” he said.

“This makes carbon offsetting hugely important to balance some of the impact of air travel. We offer our retail and larger corporate customers the option to offset carbon emissions associated with their flights through our FlyNeutral programme.”

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