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Commissioner wants tourism transformation to reduce environmental footprint

There should be transformation in New Zealand's tourism sector, says Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton. 

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It’s one of a range of measures being put forward by Parliament’s environmental watchdog. Source: 1 NEWS

He wants the current halt in international tourism to be used to establish an industry with a "substantially smaller environmental footprint". 

Upton wanted a departure tax that reflected the environmental cost of flying to and from New Zealand, with the money going to develop technology for low-emission aviation and for the Pacific Islands to help deal with the impact of climate change. 

He also wanted rules strengthened on freedom camping, with rental car agencies forced to have a greater role in the collection of freedom camping infringement fees and fines, and future central government funding for tourism infrastructure to be conditional on environmental criteria and in line with mana whenua. 

"These proposals are not 100 per cent of the solution, but together, they just might make a difference," Upton said. 

Aircraft coming in to Auckland. Source: istock.com

"There is broad support for the idea that protecting tourism livelihoods in the short term should not morph into a slow but inexorable return to the status quo in the long term."

"If we act now, we have the chance to transition the industry to one that is less environmentally harmful – as well as more resilient – than its predecessor."

Put to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today, she said there was a "wide acknowledgment in acceptance amongst our tourism operators that it’s in all our interests including theirs, to make sure our industry is sustainable".

"Our brand is reliant on being clean and green and that’s the experience we want our visitors to have."

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash last year announced plans last year to ban tourists from hiring vans that are not self-contained.

"We're a very attractive destination for a whole raft of tourists right across the socio-economic spectrum and I think tourists will turn up here but they just need to know when you come to New Zealand there are some rules you need to abide by.

"They need to buy into our sustainability brand and what we stand for as a country and defecating on the side of the road and waterways is not who we are as a nation."

Nash's vision for the sector focused on attracting "high-value" tourists, but one tourism operator said that should mean more than prioritising wealthy visitors.

Tukurua Mutu, co-owner of luxury adventure operator MDA Experiences, agreed with Stuart Nash’s wholesale approach but argued how "high-value" should be defined.

"We should be bringing high value people into New Zealand, I don’t think anyone would disagree with that," he said at the time. 

"I think there might be different definitions of what high value means though."