The challenges of growing New Zealand’s visitor numbers
All the world wants to come to New Zealand to experience the wonderful scenery, the outdoor adventure activities, and world-class friendly service for which the small country Downunder is famous. But more and more, the No Vacancy sign is showing. For a large part of the year New Zealand is full.
|Lake Wanaka is a magnet for touring photographers|
Tourism, directly and indirectly, is a great generator of business opportunities and employment. Tourism can be such a successful industry that some nations prosper solely from it. New Zealand has many industries that earn foreign exchange, but in recent decades tourism has taken the leading role. Now the industry and government have declared that they are embarking on a record-breaking period of growth and expansion. Industry forecasts are predicting that the numbers, particularly from Asia, will grow by millions per year.
But what will New Zealand have to do to achieve the new goals? Is it just a simple matter of bringing in the No Vacancy sign? No. Not by a long shot.
New Zealand desperately needs to improve its infrastructure. It must also include all the population in the pride that holds tourism as the nation’s most important industry. The clean, green image must become clean, green, capable, efficient and safe, where no-one does it better. It’s one thing to get visitors into the country once. It takes planning, dedication, expertise, service and variety to get them back again and again.
|Peter Blakeborough, the author of nine books, has been a|
tour driver, guide and tour operator for 37 years
The whole nation, every individual, needs to be aware that it may only take one incident (unprofessional, unsafe or unfriendly) to destroy tourism and employment for a generation. Every individual, whether employed directly in tourism or not, must be ready to protect and defend tourism and the tourist. Without tourism, New Zealand would be ranked as one of the world’s poorest nations.
New Zealand needs more than a forecast to make tourism grow. There needs to be a comprehensive plan to expand the tourism infrastructure. Rotorua and Queenstown cannot continue to cope with the growing demand for beds, excursions and adventures. Milford Sound is at the end of the country’s longest no-exit road, and in the location most exposed to accidents and natural disasters. That is a potential calamity that needs urgent attention. In the meantime, the Milford Road should only be available to holders of full New Zealand driver licences. There should also be a plan to build an alternate highway into the Sound from Jackson Bay in the north, that would not rely on the Homer Tunnel. Such a highway, making a round-trip possible, could improve safety while increasing visitor numbers.
|The road to Milford Sound is full of scenic delights, but it|
is not a road for distracted amateur drivers.
The tourism plan should also include upgrading existing roads in places like Coromandel, Northland and Urewera National Park to mention a few. Tourist highways should always provide for round-trips. Most tourists, when faced with a choice between a round-trip and a return on the same road, will almost always opt for the round-trip. Time costs them money. This is a prime reason why the Bay of Islands has failed to compete with Rotorua. It’s great scenery with every hill and corner, but doing it all again on the return journey makes it tiresome. Why would anyone want two consecutive sittings of the same movie?
New and improved highways in scenic areas will quickly attract hotels and attractions, and take some pressure off Rotorua and Queenstown. But the highways must come first. The new highways will also give visitors another reason to make return visits to New Zealand.
When people travel to foreign lands they like to think that they will be served by people who know what they are doing. Tourism, travel and hospitality courses are readily available and many people enrol in them and obtain a diploma. But that is of little use if their future employment does not put them at the coal-face. Too many tour drivers and tour directors are untrained and unqualified. Many are merely outgoing personalities with initiative, who will make an impression and survive anywhere. But these same individuals can also fail spectacularly through a lack of training. Every tour guide in New Zealand should have a tour guide licence.
In New Zealand there is a great opportunity for a tour coach operator to become an innovator. Normally, they hire a coach and driver to a tour operator, while the tour operator engages the tour manager or guide, and finds the passengers. Often it is the blind leading the blind. Someday, soon I hope, a coach operator will contract to provide both driver and guide, one senior and one junior, one teaching the other, both eventually capable of doing both jobs professionally. A captain and co-pilot team working together, each with his or her own level of certification.
The one thing that most tourists want to know about, more than anything else when they book their travel, is safety. Destinations that become unsafe, for whatever reason, are avoided like the plague. New Zealand has its share of potential natural disasters, so we must work extra hard on the hazards that can be reduced. Road accidents in New Zealand cause more deaths and injuries for tourists than any other cause, and the tourist plan must include improvements in road safety.
New Zealand drivers, 90% of whom believe they are of above average ability, are well below average ability for drivers in developed countries. This is reflected in our road crash statistics. The reasons for this are many and varied, but can be briefly attributed to poor knowledge and training, lack of respect for the law, and inadequate roads. In recent years there has been a growing trend to blame tourists for accidents, particularly tourists who inadvertently drive on the wrong side of the road. But with 90% of the worlds roads build for travelling on the right, I believe that it is us who are driving on the wrong side. As self-drive international travel explodes in the future, New Zealand and other similar countries must address this killer problem. Changing sides, as a nation, is not as difficult or as costly as it may at first appear. The best way to make our roads and drivers safe for tourists will be to adopt the best international standards.
|A tour coach like this can carry a load equal|
to ten full cars, but only requires
four car spaces for parking
Central government may also be obliged to take over some of the responsibilities of local government if the tourism industry is to continue being successful. Already parochial policies are restricting tourism growth with unfair and discriminatory treatment of freedom campers and parking for tourist coaches. This is a nationwide problem and needs a national solution. Any place that is available for parking a car without restriction should also be available for parking a self-contained camper or a tour coach without restriction.
Auckland, Wellington, Rotorua and Queenstown all have insufficient parking for tour coaches. In Rotorua, tour drivers required to take visitors to city restaurants, must drive to the edge of town to park. This means that the driver will miss a meal or will keep the visitors waiting while he has a mandatory 30-minute rest period. Another predicament for tour drivers is signage that limits parking time to minutes or two or three hours, even though a driver is required to have a 10-hour rest period in each 24-hour period.
In Queenstown, with few exceptions, tour coaches are forbidden to park anywhere in the town overnight. Daytime parking is severely limited. However, in all these cities and towns, cars get the first preference for parking. The attitude in some councils appears to be, we want your tourist dollars but just send us your money without actually travelling with it. Central government should take control of parking in the national interest, or at least lay down some firmer rules for councils to follow.
Good planning and a population dedicated to making tourists welcome, safe and satisfied will go a long way to making 5-10 million visitors a year a reality. And the environment would not need to suffer in the way it would if the same income was earned in any other way.