Next Friday, I’m lucky enough to be taking a few days off, and with a group of girlfriends, I'm heading to Karamea to fast-pack the Heaphy Track. We go on an adventure like this each year - it’s our version of a girl’s weekend. Some people go shopping, others treat themselves to a fancy hotel, but on the last weekend in November, my mates and I go bush to run, walk, laugh, and be awed by our nation’s beauty on an iconic New Zealand track.
We’ve done the Routeburn, Old Ghost Road, Ruapehu Round the Mountain track, and I don’t know whether it’s the time of year we go, but we generally find ourselves in a hut surrounded mostly with other like-minded Kiwis. All making the most of what our own backyard has to offer - but only because we book a bunk in a hut the day bookings open.
As cruel as it has been to see our tourism industry devastated by Covid 19 this year, a positive outcome is seeing New Zealanders contemplate how we want tourism to look in the future, focusing on ways to reshape the industry to provide real benefit to New Zealanders and the tourism sector, and creating a more sustainable industry.
Some people have been more articulate about this than others.
This week Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said he will ban hiring vans that are not self-contained to tourists, and market New Zealand as a destination for the wealthy as he urges a focus on attracting high-spending visitors.
Actually, these are good ideas but delivered in a slightly stroppy manner. They were somehow translated into meaning we were looking to ban freedom campers, discourage backpackers, and only let the wealthy in to enjoy our beautiful land. You could almost hear the Trump-like chant – Ban The Van! Ban the Van!
Not all Freedom Campers poop in inappropriate places or throw their litter around. Not all freedom campers are international travellers. New Zealanders travel around the country too, and yes, need to go to the toilet sometimes. I don’t think the person who left two large rubbish bags of garden waste on my berm recently was a tourist who’d felt the need to do some pruning.
We don’t always behave as well as we could ourselves – so let’s not start tourist bashing.
Saying vans must be self-contained isn’t the simple answer to the freedom camping issue. Of course, they should be, but at present self-contained can mean a small van with pretty much a potty tucked under the bed. That’s not going to encourage better behaviour.
If there is to be real change, then we need to take a closer look at what self-contained means.
We do need to invest in more infrastructure around New Zealand – even Kiwis lament the lack of toilets as they drive around the country – but working out how we funnel the tourism dollar to assist in providing good facilities for both local and international tourism, is a complicated and complex issue.
One thinks Stuart Nash needs more time to get his head around before creating headlines again.
I’d hate to see us discourage backpackers from coming to New Zealand. If Covid 19 has taught us anything, we need them to help with seasonal work - the work we don’t seem to want to do. They stay for a few months, spend money as tourists, contribute to retail, work and pay tax, and then a decade or two later they return to have a different kind of holiday.
Maybe the kind Minister Nash is more interested in advertising too.
In the time of a global pandemic – is it a problem to shake up our tourism marketing campaign? It’s probably the more wealthy who will travel for a holiday first – why not throw a marketing campaign out to the world suggesting people come and splash their cash around New Zealand?
Surely though we can do that without throwing away the welcome mat to others.
We all like to travel in different ways and should be able to. Whether you’re a young backpacker travelling to New Zealand for a working holiday, or an older traveller who likes to enjoy the finer things in life. Or a crazy bunch of girls who think there is nothing better than going for a run in the bush.
I’d like to think there’s room for us all.