At a time when tourism in this country is enjoying an unprecedented boom, it is vital that the benefits are not confined to the traditional tourist ‘hotspots’ but are shared with councils and communities nationwide.
Bruce Lochore, Chief Executive, New Zealand Motor Caravan Association
The New Zealand Motor Caravan Association (NZMCA) has invested close to $1 million and committed significant resources over the past three years to encourage our members – and other motorhome tourists – to get off the beaten track in their travels.
The logic of this approach goes back to the Rugby World Cup in 2011. The reason that event was such a success – apart from the All Blacks winning, of course – was the fact that provincial New Zealand ‘adopted’ the lower-ranking countries they were hosting, made them welcome and turned out in big numbers to support their games. As a result, the RWC was a success before it got to the play-off stages – and importantly, that success contributed to, and was shared by, the entire country (our ‘stadium of four million’).
That’s the same philosophy we’re bringing to tourism, with our Motorhome Friendly scheme and Summer Events calendar aiming to ensure the whole country benefits from the current unprecedented growth in tourism.
History tells us, of course, that first-time international visitors will go to our main destinations first. But these people are by no means the be all and end all of tourism; in fact domestic tourists contribute close to 60 percent ($20.2 billion) to the overall tourism spend ($34.7 billion)*.
So, it’s not about building tourism by sending more people to Queenstown or Rotorua – they’re going to get the crowds anyway. In our view, it’s when the visitors go to regions like the Far North, Eastern Bay of Plenty, the North Island’s East Coast, Buller and others that the New Zealand economy really benefits.
Understanding that, we have been using domestic tourism and promotion of our Motorhome Friendly towns to encourage our members to get out into the provincial areas; and inviting the rest of the tourism industry to come along with us.
Sure, probably 90 percent of those who attended the events we promoted last summer were NZMCA members but that’s only the start. Now we’ve built that base, there’s the opportunity for other communities and events to jump on board and continue building the momentum.
Social licence and key messages
Having said all that, while the growth in tourism can be a great thing for everyone, it can’t be a free for all. More and more over the past few years, here at the NZMCA we have come to understand that there’s a ‘social licence’ that goes beyond the simple economic benefits that tourism offers. This level of understanding has come through engaging with – and listening to – the legitimate complaints of the communities that the association deals with throughout the country.
With the number of Motorhome Friendly towns now 45 (and still growing) we are in constant contact with councils nationwide and the communities they represent and the consistent messages we are hearing are coming through loud and clear:
- Don’t abuse the privilege of our welcome by expecting to freedom camp in inappropriate vehicles;
- And please respect us by not leaving your rubbish or waste behind.
I believe those are entirely reasonable expectations for welcoming communities to hold and we ignore them at our peril.
A tiny minority
By the time you read this in early 2017, it’s a given that the media will be having a field day, sensationalising the freedom camping issue. So it’s important to be very clear about just where the problem lies:
First of all, it’s not caused by the trampers, hunters and bird watchers who like to camp out overnight to set out early on their activities – I have not heard one complaint from anywhere about those people.
It’s also not caused by the Kiwi families who gather up the kids and head away for a traditional tenting holiday over Christmas.
Nor is it caused by responsible motorhomers and caravanners in Certified Self-Contained (CSC) vehicles who, by and large, are welcomed by communities around the country.
And neither is it the fault of the rental industry, which is predominantly CSC – and well accepted as well. These are all valuable assets to your local economy that you need to ensure don’t get caught up in the ‘unintended consequences’ of stringent restrictions on freedom camping.
So, we’re left with the tiny minority of freedom campers who cause the problem for communities – the people sleeping in the back of cars and smaller vehicles that don’t have toilets in them. And when you get right down to it, that’s the issue – it’s all about toilets.
Understanding that, let’s just focus on the solution to that issue; while acknowledging, of course, that these people are not freeloaders – they actually contribute to the economy. Which means you are left with two options: completely prohibit them; or cater for them. At the moment because many areas don’t have the appropriate infrastructure in place, prohibiting them can look like a logical option. And we agree with that.
But that’s probably not a long-term solution if your community decides it wants the economic benefits the low-cost freedom campers offer.
That’s why we think that by the end of 2017 we will be seeing some significant changes in how people camp. By going ‘up-market’ the country’s holiday parks are not meeting the needs of a key sector of the market and we’re seeing already that other providers are keen to step into the gap that has been left by creating their own low-cost parking facilities. We see this as a significant step forward in ensuring the benefits that ‘budget’ travellers offer, are not lost to New Zealand.
By summer 2018 the upgraded Certified Self-Containment Standard should be in place and our off-the-beaten-track strategy will have gone to a new level too. We started by establishing our Motorhome Friendly towns network. Over the past year we have successfully linked in our Summer Events calendar, and the next stage is to link in other experiences and destinations that support and grow the infrastructure.
Please remember, we’re not a business seeking funding to assist us in our mission to grow tourism off the beaten track. Nor are we relying on anyone else to do this. We’re a member-funded organisation paying our own way to go out and get it done within your communities, with your communities – to create an even bigger community asset and share the benefits of tourism throughout the country.
* Figures sourced from the latest Tourism Satellite Account – the official measure of the value of the visitor economy.
This article was first published in Local Government Perspectives 2017.