• Charlie Ives is executive officer of Regional Tourism New Zealand.
Across the other side of the world we're watching a backlash against tourism that should give us some tips on its future. New Zealand's largest export industry, tourism, is gearing up for its biggest summer. This peak season we are expecting more international visitors than ever. Couple that with a busy domestic tourism industry and we've got a boom on our hands.
We currently host over 3.8 million international visitors a year but with arrival numbers increasing by well over 10 per cent a year, these numbers are expected to rise noticeably over summer.
The phenomenal growth has created more than 110,000 jobs directly related to tourism. That's over 6 per cent of the workforce. Both domestic and international visitors spend around $34 billion a year.
Whichever way you look there is enormous value for New Zealand in tourism, right? Absolutely. If we manage it well.
While New Zealand is basking in the joys of a successful industry, across the other side of the world we're watching a backlash against tourism that should give us some tips on its future in this country.
There cheaper travel and the growth of short breaks has seen a massive increase in tourism and some negative impacts. In Barcelona, an anti-tourist group has been demonstrating against visitors and has been blamed for slashing tyres and breaking hotel windows. Florence, Rome and Milan have record tourist numbers and have been putting bans in place on use of public facilities. In Venice the population is dwindling as they expect 20m tourists this year.
Across the Tasman in Australia, Byron Bay has just held a symposium, "Beyond the Byron Boom", discussing how to get more value out of the tourists they have.
These are not issues for New Zealand to be alarmed about. We're lucky to have some examples around the world of destinations that have successfully leveraged the benefits of tourism and those that have not. And we have the advantage of being a long-haul destination to most markets so we will not see the effects of massive short-stay tourism.
And so far New Zealand has tended to attract the type of visitor who values New Zealand for what it is — clean and green.
That said, the issues in Europe are a good reminder that we should be watching and listening to our local communities and ensuring we manage our destinations.
There are 30 regional tourism organisations (RTOs) in New Zealand that have the unique advantage of being at the centre of what is happening in tourism. Each region has its own challenges, some facing a growth in new markets, some wishing to disperse visitors, some dealing with issues like managing freedom camping and some simply still wanting more visitors.
Our RTOs have seen their own communities flourish and benefit from the growth in tourism with more facilities, a growth in leisure and food and beverage options, more jobs and a large boost to the economy.
Many of the developments have not come directly from the tourism industry but from local government and other industries which are experiencing the value the visitor industry brings to them. Tourism, perhaps more than any other industry, touches the whole community.
Our industry will continue to be a good-news story as long as we plan ahead, foresee the issues that may arise and address them long before they're bothering anyone.
We've seen a tipping point reached in other countries. Let's watch, learn and listen to our own regional tourism organisations to keep our eye on our greatest export earner. There is still much more value to be had for all regions out of this very successful industry.