An off-the-beaten-track strategy will continue to benefit all New Zealand. Bruce Lochore, chief executive, New Zealand Motor Caravan Association.
It has taken a while (more than three years to be exact) but a significant highlight of last year for the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association (NZMCA) – and a pointer to our focus for 2018 – has been the uptake by Tourism New Zealand of our off-the-beaten-track strategy. All I can say is, “about time”.
It was way back in 2014 that we formally launched our promotion of the many attractions and activities that areas away from the usual tourism hotspots could offer visitors.
In the time since, the NZMCA has invested more than $1.3 million and committed significant resources to encourage our members – and other motorhome tourists – to get off the beaten track in their travels.
Motorhome Friendly Towns
A key focus has been promoting our Motorhome Friendly Towns scheme, which has grown to include 47 towns in the sorts of areas that will benefit the most from Tourism New Zealand’s (TNZ’s) initiative.
The NZMCA has also promoted events in the regions and worked closely with the Department of Conservation to promote its lesser-known campsites, as part of the association’s active support of New Zealand’s tourism 2025 project.
Our reasons for doing so were twofold. Firstly, at a time when tourism in this country is enjoying an unprecedented boom, we believe it is vital that the benefits are not confined to the handful of traditional tourist destinations. We believe, rather, that councils and communities throughout provincial and rural New Zealand should receive a fairer share of the economic benefits on offer.
So far, there has been very little ‘trickle down’ to those areas from the record number of international visitors coming here.
Secondly, recognising that domestic tourism is still the industry’s major earner, we have looked to encourage motorhome tourists to spread their spending to rural and provincial destinations. Here, the ultimate goal is to create an ‘off-the-beaten-track’ tourist network with the infrastructure to provide an authentic taste of the real New Zealand to international visitors.
Now that TNZ has come on board with a plan to promote more of our country’s off-the-beaten-track destinations internationally – allied with the previous government’s increased investment in infrastructure to support tourism – that goal is a step closer.
But we’re not there yet. At this stage there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that the reality of what we’re able to offer, in terms of service and amenities, meets the expectations of international visitors.
Unless we’re able to deliver to their expectations we run the risk of undermining the good work we have already done.
Off the beaten track
So, with that in mind, in 2018 we are redoubling our efforts and investment in our promotion of New Zealand tourism’s lesser lights that you’re unlikely to see featured in big-budget media campaigns, but which (in our view) have much to offer NZMCA members and international motorhome tourists.
Again, the key drivers of our promotion will be the Motorhome Friendly Towns scheme and our growing summer events calendar. Both highlight, at no cost to the councils and communities involved, local events and attractions which we know appeal to our members and international visitors alike.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 we have come to understand that there’s a social licence that goes beyond the economic benefits (attractive as they may be) 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.For us though, it’s not just about identifying the problems but playing our part in seeking workable solutions.
One of the best examples of that over the past 12 months was our role in raising the bar on the Certified Self-Containment standard. The NZMCA financed a review of the standard and then worked with industry stakeholders to reach a consensus on the way forward.
The amendments to the Standard – which received 100 percent support from the industry and government parties involved in the review – mean that Certified Self-Containment (CSC) documentation will only be issued to vehicles that have a toilet that is able to be used inside the vehicle, even with the bed made up.
As a result, the poorly-equipped people movers and the like, which have been slipping through a loophole in the requirements, will no longer qualify as CSC. That’s going to be good news for councils and communities that have been telling us that this has been the single most concerning issue around freedom camping.
Communities have made it clear that they welcome responsible freedom campers in suitably self-contained vehicles. However, the consistent message we’ve been getting from communities big and small is that travellers freedom camping in non-self-contained vehicles is simply not acceptable to them. This is our way of maintaining the credibility of the Standard, so that communities can have the comfort of knowing that if a vehicle is CSC the occupants will truly be able to contain their waste and not simply dump it in a way that damages the environment.
Our solutions-based approach is also reflected in our close partnership with Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) which earlier this year took another significant step forward with the release of robust guidance for local authorities seeking to accommodate increased tourism numbers while relieving pressure on public infrastructure.
The guidance focuses on clarifying how local authorities can use their exemption powers under the Camping Grounds Regulations and provides councils with another practical tool to ensure that at a time when New Zealand’s tourism industry is thriving like never before communities nationwide are able to share in the benefits.
More recently, we were pleased to be invited to attend a key stakeholder meeting convened by LGNZ at which attendees discussed alternative options for the industry and local government to work together and improve the management of freedom camping nationwide.
As a result, the NZMCA will be part of a new LGNZ-led Working Group tasked with providing updated guidance and good practice examples to local authorities nationwide.
The group will also advocate to government for the reinstatement of an administering authority to regulate the Self-Containment Standard NZS 5465:2001. At present, there is no such body and it is expected that such a governmental regulatory authority would oversee the use and interpretation of the Standard and help the industry maintain a credible scheme as more and more vehicles become Certified Self-Contained.
Another area where we are working hard to investigate sustainable solutions is around travellers’ rubbish disposal.
Currently we are heading a combined industry group – which includes the motorhome rental industry, manufacturers, importers and local dealerships – to investigate purchasing and installing solar-powered bins alongside every public dump station in New Zealand.
We see this as another positive way in which we can assist councils and communities to maximise the benefits that tourism offers all of New Zealand.
This article was first published in the Perspectives 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.