What the Government missed in its 'sustainable' tourism strategy

The Government's new "sustainable" tourism strategy has been questioned by environmentalists who say it hasn't addressed a major issue.  

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage and Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis launched the New Zealand-Aotearoa Government Tourism Strategy on Thursday. 

It outlines goals around growing tourism sustainably to ensure tourism sector productivity improves and delivers "exceptional visitor experiences" all while looking after the environment. 

But while the new strategy seeks to "protect, restore and champion New Zealand's natural environment, culture and historic heritage", there is no mention of the aviation industry.  

Greenpeace climate campaigner Amanda Larsson said the Government "seems unprepared to ask difficult questions at the moment if the strategy isn't looking at aviation" which is responsible for an estimated 2 percent of global emissions. 

"Long-haul air travel is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions so I think we as a country have some really difficult questions to ask because we're so reliant on international tourism," Larsson told Newshub. 

Forest & Bird chief executive Kevin Hague also raised concern "that aviation emissions is a big hole in the sustainability of the tourism strategy". 

However, he said it's "good to see tourism will need to operate within environmental limits and that tourism should be protecting, restoring and championing the natural environment".

Forest & Bird's Kevin Hague.
Forest & Bird's Kevin Hague. Photo credit: The AM Show

Aviation issues are being looked at in the Government's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) established in 2008 which is self-described as putting "a price on greenhouse gas emissions". 

Delegates, including New Zealand, agreed at the International Civil Aviation Organisation in 2016 to an offsetting scheme whereby forest areas and carbon-reducing activities would be funded - a similar approach taken by the Green Party. 

For example, Air New Zealand is obliged to report the number of greenhouse gas emissions generated from its fuel use on domestic flights and provide to the Government a number of emission reduction units to match that number of emissions. 

But China, responsible for around 12 percent of international aviation activity, is not participating in the UN pact to reduce aviation emissions. 

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment predicts visitor arrivals to grow an average of 4 percent each year, reaching 5.1 million visitors in 2025 - and this will be driven by growth in Asian markets, "especially China". 

However, according to MBIE, increasing fuel costs might affect ticket prices and demand. 

Eugenie Sage.
Eugenie Sage. Photo credit: Newshub

Tourism industry welcomes strategy 

The Government's new tourism strategy has been welcomed by some who see it as an opportunity to align New Zealand's largest export industry in terms of foreign exchange earnings with the need to protect the environment. 

Sage pointed to programmes under the strategy that will "make sure it is a success" such as the International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy announced in March.

The Government has also introduced its Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill with an aim to reduce methane emissions 10 percent by 2030. 

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts said he welcomed the Government's "commitment to take a stronger role as the steward of the tourism system". 

Kelvin Davis.
Kelvin Davis. Photo credit: Newshub

"The Government wants tourism growth to be productive, sustainable and inclusive. We can only achieve that by steering the waka in the same direction."

But he said there's a need for better coordination and planning across all of government, and strengthened partnerships with iwi, local government, businesses and communities. 

The Tourism Minister said the Government will achieve more by working closely with the tourism and conservation sectors, and building stronger partnerships with Māori tourism enterprise, iwi, hapū and tangata whenua.

Hague told Newshub the strategy will only work if local and regional government improve their Resource Management Act rule making and enforcement.