Our love hate relationship with tourists - New Zealand's visitor fatigue
Back in the 1970s, locals in the deep south referred to tourists as "loopies" because of the daft questions they asked and their tendency to take "loop" trips around the island by tour bus.
Queenstown Mayor Jim Boult hasn't heard the mildly derogatory term used for more than 30 years, but he has noted growing angst about tourists and their association with traffic jams and the mess deposited by irresponsible freedom campers.
On Waiheke Island, local residents have protested that double decker buses introduced to cope with swarms of tourists are ruining their narrow windy tree-lined roads.
Other areas are also feeling a little under siege and a six-monthly industry "mood of the nation" survey launched in 2015 has charted a rise in visitor fatigue.
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Despite almost unanimous agreement that international tourism is good for New Zealand, industry leaders fear that if left unchecked, this could start to chip away at our much vaunted Kiwi hospitality.
In a survey of 500 New Zealanders, the proportion complaining about too many international visitors has grown from 13 per cent to 21 per cent over the past three years.
By March this year, those feeling visitors put too much pressure on the country had almost doubled to 35 per cent, and a similar proportion felt the predicted level of growth was too high, with concern highest in Otago.
There were gripes about inadequate infrastructure, overcrowding, environmental damage, increased traffic congestion, road safety, and the cost and availability of accommodation.
Separate analysis of tourism-related social media posts by New Zealanders over a 12 month period showed almost half expressed frustration with the sudden increase in tourists and their behaviour.
Lincoln University tourism professor David Simmons says the industry's image has taken a drubbing and it needs to be mindful of its "social licence to operate" – academic-speak for not upsetting the locals.
"When they go to their favourite places and find them trashed or over run with freedom campers and the like, they may go 'this is not what we expect, tourism has not kept its social contract'.
"It's a remarkably simple equation that says New Zealanders will continue to be nice and embrace tourists as long as tourism as a system continues to be a good corporate and social citizen."
Before he quit Tourism New Zealand (TNZ) late last year, then chief executive Kevin Bowler emphasised that on its busiest day New Zealand was likely to have about three international tourists for every 100 Kiwis.
However, Auckland University of Technology tourism professor Simon Milne says visitor ratios vary enormously around the country.
"In places like Akaroa or Wanaka it (the ratio) starts to look a lot more like 12 to 1, or even more."
Crimes against tourists, such as thefts or assaults (there are no official figures on this), are a good barometer of public sentiment, Milne says.
"As we see more people being beaten up in campervans or whatever, that's a sign that visitors are not welcome, and there are people in the community who cannot see the broader value of tourism and it's impacts, and see it simply as a short term opportunity to take some money from vulnerable people.
"We've got to guard and maintain community support for tourism, it's our most precious resource."
TNZ's new chief executive, Stephen England-Hall, is well aware of that.
"One thing we do very well is welcome people as strangers and farewell them as whanau."
He says listening to New Zealanders feedback about tourism is as important as surveying visitors about their stay here, and we need a more open conversation about its impacts, both good and bad.
As evidence of action on that he cites the cross-government working group of chief executives from different agencies who meet regularly to discuss the affect of tourism.
Now tourism numbers, not just New Zealand population data, are taken into account when planning new infrastructure such as roads.
England-Hall also believes that promoting off peak visits and spreading more visitors around the regions will alleviate the problems that vex locals.
"The best way to make sure New Zealanders advocate for tourism is about matching supply and demand."
Charm offensive needed
TNZ board member Raewyn Idoine says public perceptions of tourism are at a key point and action is needed now so the industry does not go the way of Fonterra.
"Everybody loved farmers until they started polluting streams and rivers and making butter cost too much.
"Now Fonterra is funding milk in schools and making expensive PR campaigns with Ritchie McCaw to improve their image."
Idoine says many people still don't realise tourism has overtaken dairying as our number one foreign exchange earner, and she'd like to see tourism included in the teaching of school subjects such as maths and economics, as well as geography.
When her own grand-daughter mocked tourists who gathered to photograph Stratford's glockenspiel clocktower, Idoine pointed out how much those tourists spent if they stopped for coffee and lunch in the town.
"I got her so motivated she got her teacher to get the kids to do a survey and talk to the tourists about what they enjoyed about New Zealand and why they stopped in Stratford. Those 20 to 30 kids then go home and talk to their parents."
What Kiwis really think
Tour guide and ski instructor Tommy Nakao has lived in Queenstown for more than 20 years and says in peak season visitor numbers certainly cause frustrations.
A trip from the airport into town that used to take 15 minutes is a 45 minute crawl at busy times, and finding a car park in town is almost impossible.
After six years in Queenstown full-time mum Anne Schneeberger says it doesn't feel like a community because of all the tourists.
"I can walk around here and I don't know anybody . . . it's so expensive, everybody in Queenstown complains about that . . . It's so transient, most of my friends have moved on."
Derek Melnick does marketing for a Queenstown skydive operation and is a big tourism supporter, but is not blind to the negatives.
"Kiwis are very relaxed in terms of their approach to travel and it will impact heavily on their ability to just jump into the car and take a trip up north or down south for the weekend unless you are booked a month in advance. Try and get a campsite in Tekapo in January to March."
Mood of the Nation comments
- "I live in Wanaka and I'm tired of how busy our supermarket is all the time."
- "[Tourists] push up the prices for New Zealanders at places like Rotorua and Queenstown, pretty much putting them out of our price range."
- "Some scenic spots are overcrowded and lose their appeal."
- "We are too focused on quantity rather than quality of overseas visitors, placing too much pressure on our inadequate infrastructure."
- Stuff Nation