New Zealand Mulls Limiting Mass Tourism to Preserve Green Image

New Zealand is considering ways to transform its key tourism industry amid concerns that a flood of visitors is damaging the environment and stretching infrastructure.

The industry has been battered as a prolonged closure of the border shuts out foreign visitors, requiring continued government support, Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said in a speech to an industry conference in Queenstown on Friday. Mass-scale international tourism is unlikely before 2022 even as the government is working to open a safe travel corridor with Australia this year, he said.

“The long-term picture for tourism once borders reopen requires more fundamental change,” Nash said. “We cannot go back to the tourism model that existed prior to Covid-19.”

New Zealand sells itself to foreign visitors on a clean, green brand, but recent reports have highlighted how the flood of tourists can damage the environment and over-crowd key attractions. Before the pandemic, tourism was the economy’s biggest foreign-exchange earner and employed about 10% of the nation’s workers.

“I believe that in a number of places the industry was beginning to erode its social license to operate,” Nash said. “Perhaps we had also passed the tipping point in some key iconic spots, of not delivering on our global brand of 100% Pure.”

Nash said he is assessing a number of changes including the rules around freedom camping and how visitors can pay for what they see.

“I want to take another look at pricing strategies across public assets like national parks, so that the heavy pressure of international visitors is more financially sustainable,” he said. “There is scope for a fresh look at existing levies like the International Visitor Levy to help ensure the true cost of tourism is priced into the international visitor experience.”

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