In this Stuff Opinion Piece (12 June 2017), TIA Chief Executive Chris Roberts responds to recent articles in Fairfax publications that have made passing reference to the importance of tourism to New Zealand but have highlighted concerns like 'visitor fatigue' and our 'love/hate relationship with tourists', citing a level of dissatisfaction with overcrowding, traffic congestion, environmental damage and lack of accommodation.
It's no secret that New Zealand has been seeing an unprecedented boom in the number of international visitors to our shores, says TIA Chief Executive Chris Roberts.
It's part of a global phenomenon, with more people leaving home to visit other nations than at any other time in history.
By most measures, this desire to travel is a huge benefit to our country. International travellers are delivering around $40 million in foreign exchange across our economy every day of the year.
The Government does well too. The visitors pay border charges and an astonishing $1.15 billion a year in GST – and, unlike many other international destinations, we don't offer the opportunity for them to reclaim those payments when they leave.
Talk of new tourist taxes is popular, but our visitors are more than paying their way already.
Tourism directly supports more than 180,000 jobs across the country, often in places where few other work opportunities exist.
Indirectly, visitors support thousands more jobs in the businesses that provide supplies and services to tourism businesses – think market gardeners, builders, accountants and laundries to name a few.
Less obviously, but no less importantly, our tourism industry provides colour and vibrancy to our communities. How many of our shops, restaurants, bars and cafes would survive without travellers, both international and domestic?
Just ask the businesses in Kaikoura, Cheviot and Woodville what a difference it made when their passing traffic was suddenly turned off by state highway closures.
And let's not forget that on any given day, thousands of New Zealanders are heading off for their own overseas holidays.
Those planes also take export goods to the world. Inbound tourism helps keep airlines flying here, and the resulting airline competition keeps fares affordable.
Recent articles in Fairfax publications have made passing reference to the importance of tourism to New Zealand but have highlighted concerns like 'visitor fatigue' and our 'love/hate relationship with tourists', citing a level of dissatisfaction with overcrowding, traffic congestion, environmental damage and lack of accommodation.
It is true that we have been feeling 'growing pains' from the faster than expected growth.
There are more international visitors (and more domestic travellers too) and this is putting pressure on some of our most popular destinations at peak times.
It is also changing the feel of some of those "hidden gems" where New Zealanders are used to having a beach or walking track all to themselves.
However, we are still a long way from being full. Due to our distance from the rest of the world, we will never be a mass market destination.
We are only the world's 65th most visited country. We are ranked 72nd for ratio of visitors to local residents, and 107th for ratio of visitors to land area.
Ireland, which has a similar population and only a quarter of the land area, hosts 9 million international visitors a year, almost three times the 3.5 million people coming here.
As a niche market, with around 0.3 per cent of world tourism, we can and are targeting value over volume – those visitors who spend more, come at different times of the year and visit different regions of New Zealand.
That is not to say we don't need to take action to respond to the growth.
A huge amount of work is underway, across both the public and private sectors, to tackle the big issues like infrastructure needs and workforce requirements, and to respond to genuine public concerns about responsible camping and visiting drivers.
The investment levels being seen across the industry run into the billions of dollars, including the recent announcement of a $1.8 billion infrastructure investment programme at Auckland Airport.
Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA) lobbied hard for the Government's new Tourism Infrastructure Fund, announced in May, which will support local councils across the country to provide some of the basic infrastructure used by locals and visitors alike.
We also need to protect our greatest asset – our natural environment. DOC must be funded adequately so that it can be an enabler of the visitor experience without compromising its core role of conservation.
TIA wants to see genuine progress towards Predator Free 2050 and real improvements in the quality of fresh water.
With everyone playing their part, we have time to get this right. As an industry, we are committed to protecting New Zealand and supporting our way of life. After all, that is the heart of what we have to offer our visitors.
Tourism is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
For the tourism industry to be sustainable – environmentally, socially and economically – we need our communities to embrace tourists and tourism.
We want our visitors to come as strangers but leave as whanau.