Budget aims to boost tourism industry as visitor numbers continue to grow

By Leo Horgan

The government plans to spend $178mil on tourism infrastructure as part of Budget 2017, including $76mil on new and upgraded Department of Conservation (DOC) infrastructure.

Conservation Minister Maggie Barry says, “The new funding will allow DOC to better manage the impact of visitor growth, while also protecting our biodiversity and threatened species.

“The DOC estate is our biggest and best-known tourism asset and this funding increase means DOC can upgrade and develop tourist facilities and expand the great walks network.

“We know there are plenty of new locations that could easily support more visitors, relieve pressure on hotspots and develop a bigger share of the regional economic benefits of tourism,” Ms Barry says.

The funding is made up of $44.6 million operating funding over four years and $31.3 million capital and includes:

$23 million for improving visitor experiences throughout New Zealand.
$11.4 million for improvements to DOC’s online services to the public and introduce more customer focused technology and a new booking service.
$12.7 million towards the expansion of the Great Walks network.
$5.7 million to develop Great Short Walks and Great Day Walks.
$19.8 million for upgraded tourist facilities.

With overseas visitor numbers set to reach 4.5 million by 2022, many tourism operators and affected communities have expressed concern at being able to cope with the increasing volume of visitors.

The threat of overcrowding to fragile ecosystems, notorious behavior of ‘freedom campers’ and ignorance of cultural sensitivities exemplified by the recent nude photo atop Mt Taranaki are just a few of the challenges posed by Aotearoa’s growing tourism market.

When contacted by Māori Television, a representative for NZ Māori Tourism indicated that the organization was looking to see the government and industry co-ordinate a ‘game-changing shift to value over volume’.  The desired approach would focus on managing the environmental footprint caused by exponential growth and minimising the negative impact of increasing tourist numbers on already strained infrastructure.

NZ Māori Tourism also indicated support for measures already outlined in the government’s pre-budget announcement including increased support for DOC and regional development, promotion and support of the tourism industry in ‘off the beaten track’ areas to help develop new infrastructure and job opportunities for New Zealanders.

The Tourism Infrastructure Fund will provide $100 million over the next four years in partnership with local councils and other community organisations, for projects like new carparks, toilets and freedom camping facilities.

“The fund is about helping communities respond to demand and addressing capacity constraints.  It will also facilitate future growth in some of our newer tourism regions as well as the main tourist hubs,” says Tourism Minister Paula Bennett.

“The industry has clearly told us that infrastructure is their top priority and we’ve responded to that.  We’re moving from a focus of just boosting tourist numbers to also attracting higher-value tourists to all regions. This funding will ensure we have the capacity to do that.”

Last year international tourism expenditure in Aotearoa reached $14.5 billion and generated around 188,000 jobs directly, and a further 144,000 indirectly.