New Zealand understands the importance of the environment is to its tourism industry and is working towards taking steps to protect it. The conclusion is, more clean, more green and 150% pure is the only way for New Zealand to remain a viable tourist destination, but the cost may be too big for some tourism outfits.
Today's Dominion Post reports the Draft New Zealand Tourism Strategy 2015 has touted a sustainability-heavy focus as the only way to shrug off the cost of the carbon miles it takes to get tourists to New Zealand.
Tourism Industry Association chief executive Fiona Luhrs and Tourism Minister Damien O'Connor launched the industry's second long- term strategy at Te Papa yesterday.
Pitching forecasts at one million more visitors a year by 2015, and doubling their total holiday spend to $12 billion, the strategy quoted kaitiakitanga -- guardianship and sustainable management -- as a core principle.
Ms Luhrs said tough environmental requirements could have casualties as tourism operators were asked to invest in eco-friendly operations. Small to medium-sized businesses, particularly those with fleets of vehicles such as campervans or tour buses, would have to think about whether they could upgrade and remain competitive.
"It will sort out the men from the boys; it's going to be quite a telling period. People are going to have to decide whether they are seriously in tourism or not."
Mr O'Connor said New Zealand had to go further than its "100% Pure" message as tourists started to count the carbon miles they clocked up on holiday.
"The level of expectation around 100% Pure is now far greater than ever before. We need to have such a compelling product that those Europeans still say, 'You have to go to New Zealand,' " Mr O'Connor said.
The strategy acknowledged that tourism operators would have to earn more to invest in eco-friendly practices and attract skilled staff. Wages in tourism and tourism- related jobs lag the all-industry average by up to $8000 a year. Better yields were imperative too, with the average spend of international visitors - $2899 per trip - roughly unchanged since 1999.
Wellington coach tour operator Wally Hammond said profits would have to come before eco-investment, because it was hard enough to make money now.
Upgrading his six-vehicle fleet to a carbon-neutral, environmentally friendly state was realistically a 20-year project. "At this point in time, going out and buying those vehicles is prohibitive and I don't think any of us could survive."
An emission-safe fleet could be managed in the short term only by big companies with large infrastructures and budgets. "It's the economic hard facts that will affect not only myself but the other small operators as well."
Ms Luhrs said discussions with the Government over incentives for investment were yet to show any traction. "I think money can be found, but there is going to have to be a commitment from the operators."
Clearly there are many factors involved in addressing the issues New Zealand is facing relating to its tourism industry and the environment. I think the level of discourse is encouraging and could serve as a model for similar discussions across the world especially here in the US.