Last March I expressed my views here on calls to add more charges in various forms to parks and their facilities, and particularly on differential charging for tourists.
Recently this topic has been refreshed in media. It might be because the NZ Tourism Industry Association (the main association of subscribing businesses who charge tourists for experiences) having released a report arguing that there should be more privatisation in the operation of public assets, and suggesting more money should be raised directly from their users. The report is announced here, which includes a download link for a 24 page executive summary.
Here’s some more random and recent coverage on the topic, all from Fairfax: Kiwis risk losing an ‘unalienable right to wild places’ (23 Dec 2016), Dominion Post Editorial (27 Dec 2016) – Yes to a tourist tax, Tramping group fights plans to charge tourists for using Great Walks (30 Dec 2016).
Great Walks have been singled out in the popular media discussion, with much made of the point that Great Walks “lost” around $3 million last financial year. The Tourism Industry argues that DOC runs them inefficiently, and that much could be gained with forms of privatisation.
In my March 2016 post I’ve already expressed most of my views and reasoning around charging for access. On the Great Walk thing, I’d just add that since their inception, Great Walks were never intended to make a profit. There are multiple intents with Great Walks, but part of their purpose was to attract the masses of visitors to a few very specific places where so many people could be more easily managed.
It’s safer, and often more enjoyable, for people with lower skill and experience levels. At the same time much of the visitor pressure is lifted off the rest of the network. If costs get too high, there’s a higher incentive for people to disburse through all the other random places which are harder for DOC to predict and preempt their management for higher visitor numbers. That’s especially a risk when everyone’s so easily trading secrets in the internet forums and back rooms of backpackers about the best next place to go which authorities haven’t yet caught up with.
It should be about the spending
Something I didn’t address in my previous post is that I think much of this discussion is being misguided from the start. Reports and discussions and social media threads are mostly considering methods of funding DOC, or funding the Conservation Estate if not DOC. Maybe it’s about whether there should border taxes or entry fees or conservation passes or increased facility fees. Anything to make up for the lack of public funds which we’re providing! Talking about funding sources, though, doesn’t actually address the question of how much money is needed, nor what we could expect from it.
My own view is that New Zealand’s issues, at least when it comes to spending, are largely about how much we, as a population, value the land and what’s in it.