What is it about New Zealand's economic mentality that is so fatally and stupidly drawn to boom and bust?

You'd think the tourism industry would have a wee shufti over at the dairy wallahs, take a deep breath, and ask themselves how they're going to avoid the same problems with rapid and unmanageable expansion.

Government is certainly adding to the pressure by thrusting cash in all directions - just as they've done with dairy - to ensure the machine keeps chugging ever harder. It's a recipe for the tourism industry losing their social licence to operate, if I've ever seen one. Because tourism - now our biggest export earner slightly ahead of dairy - is expanding so fast, that the quantity over quality mindset is once again at full steam.

Let's get those visitors through the turnstiles, clip the tickets, and build ever more infrastructure to cater for them. Private funders are lining up to have their brand splashed across some wilderness toilet.


Except it won't work without a plan. The natural environment will pay so heavily - indeed, is paying already - the very reason to travel here becomes negated.

Imagine you're a foreign tourist. Why would you, over any other destination, spend your moolah coming to "clean, green, 100% Pure" New Zealand when it isn't? Our rivers, lakes and streams are already ecologically failing so, what's left to ooh and aah at? Oh, yes, the jam-packed, "you need to make a booking" Great Walks, and all sponsored by ... you fill in the blanks.

This week we've learned that the Department of Conservation is working closely with the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment on a somewhat unusual venture. Actually, it's insane, but that minor detail won't stop it happening. It's investigating the prospect of branding Karamea as "Moa Town" and using a giant moa installation to attract visitors. The plan includes developing a display of moa and Haast's eagles at Oparara Caves, with a possible light show, positioning them as "new products" for the West Coast.

Yes, just like the township of Bulls has a plethora of plastic-looking bulls displayed up and down its main drag, Karamea may be destined to join the tourism tack-fest too - sans the sizeable scrotums.

Who, in their right mind, thinks this a good idea? If tourists want that, they usually go to Disneyland, or Te Papa. Aside from the fact that being in nature usually means, you know, being in nature. For everything else, there's the internet. Or Florida.

Don't even get me started on what DoC's core statutory duty is, and how well that's going. Yes, that's right. Conservation.

But I guess when 800 native species are currently classified as threatened and faced with extinction, and the funding for saving them just isn't there, you may as well get on board with the theme park idea. Life is a rollercoaster.

Tourism New Zealand gets about $115m a year from the Government and last week announced a marketing partnership worth up to $20m this year, to promote New Zealand in key offshore markets. Air NZ and Tourism NZ will invest up to $10 million each over 12 months for joint activity in Australia, China, North and South America, Japan, Singapore, the UK and Europe.


With our ex-Minister of Tourism John Key now a director on Air New Zealand's board, I think you can see the circle of love will flow freely in many directions.

Meanwhile, Tourism New Zealand's new boss seems custom-built for the role.

Stephen England-Hall said he'd like to see this country do more to clean up the environment, while also saying that criticism of the "100% Pure" campaign was not going to stop it being successful. Allow me to translate. He's banking on us having our brand and eating it too. Indeed, it might be 18 years old, and utterly false, but that's not going to stop the tourism juggernaut from reaping the rewards. No matter how brief and environmentally fatal that could turn out to be.

While Tourism New Zealand may not be focusing on strategic planning, Tourism Industry Aotearoa is.

Representing tourism operators, last week they released their "election manifesto". In it they list 29 actions they'd like the next incoming government to deal with. While nakedly eager to "supercharge the tourism industry's success", their initiatives appear forward-thinking, strategic, and heavy on the "S" word. Sustainability.

It's clear from reading the document that this organisation understands the tourism boom could quickly be bust, if certain environmental, economic and social checks and balances are not put in place. We can only hope someone is listening.

Otherwise tourists may soon be arriving to look at plastic statues of extinct kea at Arthur's Pass, or kiwi replicas randomly strewn throughout the bush. If they bother to come at all.