Tourism needs plan in case climate change kills air travel

A newly-released draft tourism strategy says the industry needs to plan for the possibility that international tourist numbers drop because of the impacts of climate change.

Released today by Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage, the draft strategy concentrates mainly on how to cope with an increasing number of tourists. Possible solutions include focusing on higher value tourists, encouraging them to visit lesser-known regions and travel in off-peak seasons, and investing in emerging and embryonic tourist destinations so that they can cope with growth.

But the report also explores the opposite scenario.

"To ensure that we remain an attractive visitor destination, we need to develop a stronger understanding of how the future demand picture in relation to both international and domestic visitors is likely to change over time. This includes understanding the impact of major social, economic, environmental and technological megatrends and disrupters," the draft strategy says.

It acknowledges the "possibility that visitor growth may slow or even decline over time and, in some cases, this effect may not be short-lived or even temporary".

"The most obvious source of a potentially longer-term reduction in tourism growth is climate change."

Climate change could impact tourism in New Zealand in a number of ways, including making air travel more expensive (as fossil fuels take the brunt of a rising carbon price), and making tourists reluctant to exacerbate the problem by taking long-haul flights. Whatever the reason, the government worries the impact could be significant.

"The global move towards reducing carbon emissions, and New Zealand’s focus on transitioning to a low emissions economy, is likely to have a significant and long-term impact on New Zealand’s tourism industry, for example in terms of the transportation options available to, or demanded by, visitors." 

Better understanding the nature of this impact will therefore be an important part of the future work programme supporting implementation of this strategy," it says, while conceding that "we do not yet have a good understanding of the implications for the tourism sector of climate change".

The government is seeking public and industry submissions on the new strategy.

The document says new data should be collected to help drive decisions about future investment in tourism infrastructure, suggesting some existing policy settings are more suited to a period when strong growth in visitor numbers was a primary target. Managing such growth is now a much higher priority.

"Our current tourism system isn’t set up to make the most of these opportunities," it says. "It features some out-dated policy settings and funding arrangements that were never designed to deal with the scale and pace of change that we have seen in the past five years.

"The recent pace and scale of visitor growth, combined with an increase in New Zealand’s population, has effectively outstripped the capacity of our system to respond in some areas. This means that opportunities are not being fully realised, and pressures are not always well managed." 

A "more active, deliberate and coordinated approach to tourism", involving central and local government leadership, is necessary.  

New Zealanders themselves emerge as an important source of tourism in the draft strategy, since they are most likely to visit lesser-known parts of the country before international tourists and can help pave the way for future tourism growth, the strategy says.​

Tourism was the country's biggest export earner in the year to March 2017, with tourists and other international visitors spending more than $14 billion in a sector that has seen revenues grow at a compound annual growth rate of 7 percent since 2012. It employs 230,000 people and is seen both as a major source of regional employment and a pathway into the workforce for lower-skilled people.

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