DoC cuts alarm tourism operators

Environment main drawcard for visitors so any deterioration in access would be a worry, says industry body.

The department plans to axe 140 jobs and cut the number of conservancy regions. Photo / Greg Bowker
The department plans to axe 140 jobs and cut the number of conservancy regions. Photo / Greg Bowker

A tourist industry group is worried about the impact of cuts at the Department of Conservation while another organisation says more charging for visitors is inevitable.

Tourism Industry Association advocacy manager Geoff Ensor said the environment was the main initial drawcard for overseas visitors and New Zealanders, whose spending was worth about $23 billion a year.

"Just at a time when there is a push for greater amounts of recreation and the benefits that go with that, if access did start to become compromised that would really worry us," Ensor said.

The department has said it will axe 140 jobs and cut the number of conservancy regions in a department-wide shake-up. Although most would be regional management and administrative roles, 22 operational roles would go.

Ensor said there had for the past two or three years been significant restructure and funding constraints at DoC.

"That has been a worry to the industry. We're managing that in a number of ways. One of them is to work even more closely with the department. Rather than throw up our hands we work [as] closely with key stakeholders as we can."

The association was running regional workshops with DoC and tourism operators to establish what the shake-up would mean.

"For us the department is incredibly important for the future of tourism. They will have a profound affect on how New Zealand looks and feels in the future."

Ensor said the association was most concerned that the cuts would reduce DoC's effectiveness and need even greater investment to retrieve it.

Tracks, huts and general infrastructure were critical to tourists.

"If that was allowed to deteriorate that would be a real concern for tourism, but it would be a real concern for New Zealand because DoC manages our most pristine areas," he said.

Tourist operators supported DoC by paying concession fees to take visitors on to conservation land, paid in kind with pest eradication programmes or lump sum payments.

"The environment is our most significant drawcard. There's no doubt the environment underpins a lot of what tourism has to offer and that's why we put so much weighting on this relationship and making sure this restructure works."

Lesley Immink, chief executive of the Tourism Export Council said the charging regime would have to be extended beyond operators paying concession fees.

Ten-year guiding concessions with DoC meant those who took visitors there had to pay but others who went on to the conservation estate to take photos or walk didn't.

"That's our challenge that we're working with DoC and the industry on - that we're going to have to get our visitors educated. They should pay, that's their biggest motivator for coming, that's our biggest drawcard."

- NZ Herald

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