LGNZ president Dave Cull says that Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton is on the money with his new report warning that domestic and international tourists are putting too much pressure on our environment.
The report, Pristine, popular… imperilled? The environmental consequences of projected tourism growth, examines the role successive governments have played in supporting and regulating the tourism industry, and looks at how the industry, and the environmental pressures it generates, could evolve in the future.
“Central government has done a great job of marketing New Zealand’s prime tourism destinations, particularly to international visitors, but have literally passed the buck when it comes to funding the infrastructure and managing the very real impacts that local communities see on the ground,” says Cull.
“More people than ever want to visit New Zealand, which is fantastic for our regions and economy. We can see the benefits, but we can also see the challenges to our environment and heritage.
“Councils are guided by the four well-beings, so are critically aware that we need to strike a balance in any endeavour.
“Tourism brings great economic opportunities to towns and cities across New Zealand, but we have to get the balance right and ensure that it’s not to our environmental, social or cultural detriment.
“The Commissioner is right to ask whether we’re in danger of killing the goose that laid the golden egg.”
While the direct tax benefits from tourist activity, such as GST, PAYE and profit taxes flow into central government’s coffers, ratepayers, which in many regions are outnumbered by international visitors, provide the local roads, footpaths, drinking water, waste water, toilets, parks and other facilities, he says. This can lead to poor environmental outcomes.
“Like the Government’s Tourism Strategy, the Commissioner’s report highlights the pressures of high volume tourism and the need to instead focus on high value tourism.
“But right now we need to start putting real, sustained investment into infrastructure to support the industry and protect the environment, not just grants and contestable funding.
“That’s why LGNZ is right behind introducing a local tourism tax in Queenstown, similar to what is found in many of the world’s most popular tourism destinations.
“Our regions welcome the opportunities that tourism brings, but we need to find a balance to maintain tourisms environmental and social licence with our communities.
“Visitor arrivals are forecast to reach 5.1 million by 2024, so more flexibility to have those tourists pay their own way is needed,” says Cull.