Campervan company collects freedom camping fines

Campervan company collects freedom camping fines

One of the country's biggest campervan suppliers is helping local authorities collect fines from freedom campers who break the law.

Tourism Holdings, which operates the Maui, Britz and Mighty rental campervan brands is collecting fines issued by the Thames-Coromandel and Queenstown-Lakes district councils from their own customers.

The three-month trial began this month. When a camper is issued a fine, the councils inform Tourism Holdings within 24 hours. When the customer returns the vehicle, the fine is added to their credit card payment, plus a $35 admin fee.

A recent audit showed about half of fines issued to freedom campers - usually about $200 - go unpaid.

"We have a fantastic country with beautiful scenery, and we want to keep it that way," says Horowhenua Mayor and vice-president of Local Government NZ, Brendan Duffy.

"Tourism is a bigger earner now than dairy… this three-month trial with Tourism Holdings, supported by the Minister of Local Government Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga and Local Government, is a fantastic chance to… get a system that works."

Tourism Holdings hasn't had any fines issued to its customers in the first two weeks of the trial, which began on August 1. It's believed most campers who attract fines don't hire vans anyway - they usually buy a cheap vehicle then sell it before leaving the country.

The Government is presently reviewing the laws around freedom camping. Mr Duffy suggests starting with the terminology.

"The fact that it's called 'freedom camping', people see it in a light that's not what we desire. If we're able to bring some protocols to play that allow us to protect our environment, [tourism] is going to grow."

A big part of that could be more education for tourists about what is and isn't allowed - especially considering they'll be unlikely to come back if they get a fine.

"The more information we make available at the start of a visitor's holiday to this fantastic country, the more they will enjoy it and the less likely they'll be fined."

If fined tourists appeal, Tourism Holdings says they'll be let off the hook as they can't be forced to pay the fine until the waiver application has been processed.