Tourism is one of New Zealand’s biggest economic sectors and its biggest export earner. In the 12 months to March 2018, international visitors generated NZ$16.2 billion (around $11 billion) for the antipodean archipelago.

 Tourism – a very big deal in New Zealand
Tourism – a very big deal in New Zealand
Image: Stats NZ

But while an overwhelming 95% of New Zealanders agree international tourism is a good thing, there are concerns that, if left unchecked, it could lead to problems.

Speaking about the latest Mood of the Nation research report issued in December by Tourism New Zealand, Stephen England-Hall, the body’s chief executive, said: “The results show us that while Kiwis agree tourism is good for the country, they also worry about the impact it can have in some areas. It’s no secret that some regions are feeling pressure and need support to ensure that tourism enriches their environment, community and the people who live there. On the flipside, we also have regions that are keen to attract more international visitors.

“This is something (the) government and tourism industry are working hard to address to ensure we continue to offer positive tourism experiences for visitors and local communities well into the future.”

The country’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, recently spoke about the first-ever ‘wellbeing budget’ at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting, which will take account of environmental and mental health besides New Zealand’s economic health.

She said: "What greater threat is there to our wellbeing than the current threat of climate change? GDP may say your country is thriving, but it's not thriving if it's also degrading the environment and contributing to CO2 emissions."

The Mood of the Nation report

Findings from the survey included:

  • 58% of New Zealanders believe tourism creates growth opportunities for businesses
  • 58% believe it creates employment opportunities for residents
  • 57% believe it creates economic growth for the regions
  • Only 10% of New Zealanders knew tourism was the country’s top export earner

To counter any potential ill-effects from tourists, New Zealand has launched the Tiaki Promise, which asks visitors to act in a considerate and respectful manner and states:

“When travelling in New Zealand, I will care for land, sea and nature, treading lightly and leaving no trace. Travel safely, showing care and consideration for all. Respect culture, travelling with an open heart and mind.”

The Maori word tiaki means to care for people and place. It’s an outlook that might have served one family of visitors well.

A family of British tourists gained headlines following a string of incidents which, according to the New Zealand Herald, involved leaving litter strewn on Auckland’s Takapuna Beach, refusing to pay for meals in restaurants, and exhibiting threatening behaviour.

Although the family denied the allegations, they were subsequently issued with a deportation notice by immigration officials.

Size matters but so do manners

For a country as small as New Zealand, with its population of just 4.9 million people, an annual influx of huge numbers of tourists can cause pressure – last year, 3.8 million people visited.

Other tourist hotspots have seen a backlash from locals over the impact visitors have. In Barcelona, there has been an outbreak of anti-tourist graffiti, while Venice is introducing a tourist tax. Day-trippers will have to pay a levy of $11 during the peak tourism season and around $3 at quieter times of year.

As yet, there are no indications that New Zealand is considering anything similar. Its visitor numbers went up by 3.6% last year and, more importantly for the local economy, total visitor spend growth was up 6.3% year on year.

The country is so determined to have a positive, sustainable relationship with global tourists that last year Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, even starred in a tourism campaign advert.