It's no secret tourism is big business internationally. The global visitor economy is thriving as increasing numbers of people travel internationally and domestically.
Tourism is a powerful generator of GDP and jobs worldwide. The World Travel & Tourism Council says in 2017 the global travel and tourism sector accounted for about 10 per cent of all GDP and jobs. The number of people employed reached 313 million. Further, for the seventh straight year, tourism and travel grew at a quicker rate – 4.6 per cent – than the global economy.
Auckland and New Zealand are riding this wave of tourism and travel growth. People travel to Auckland to experience the many things our region has to offer. For some, it's the world-class food and wine and natural surroundings we're renowned for; for others, it's the sporting, cultural and business events we host; or international students from around the world who come to study at our learning institutions.
The number of visitors to our city is predicted to continue growing rapidly – to 4.1 million in 2025, a staggering 3 million more than came here in 2016. Not measured – but certainly larger and growing at least as rapidly – is the number of visitors from the rest of New Zealand.
For the year ended March 2016, tourism expenditure in New Zealand was $34.7 billion –
a 12.2 per cent increase from the previous year. International tourism expenditure also increased 17.1 per cent to $11.8b over the same period. That made 17.4 per cent of New Zealand's total exports of goods and services.
These numbers are impressive. More important, though, are the jobs the visitor economy creates for New Zealanders: tourism directly employs 7.5 per cent of our country's workforce; on top of that are the jobs the wider visitor economy helps to generate in other sectors including retail, hospitality, construction, manufacturing and telecommunications.
The visitor economy relies on a wide range of infrastructure services and investment in those services helps to deliver amenities across our region that will benefit Aucklanders and visitors alike. They include major developments under way that are transforming Auckland – the world-class New Zealand International Convention Centre, many new high-grade hotels and the City Rail Link, to name a few.
It's important we continue to attract visitors to support existing jobs and amenities and create new ones that benefit locals and visitors – but with this growth comes responsibility.
This balance is at the core of Destination AKL 2025, a strategy that sets a new direction for Auckland's visitor economy. It is the outcome of a process initiated by Auckland Tourism, Events & Economic Development (Ateed) – the region's economic growth agency – and guided by an Industry Leaders Group.
Collaboration and industry co-operation is at the strategy's heart. Ateed brought together industry leaders from across the public and private sector to provide guidance and expert input into its development, which involved a huge amount of research, consultation and discussion.
The result is a joint commitment to proactive management to ensure our visitor economy has a positive impact on Auckland – not just economically, but socially, culturally and environmentally.
We understand that plan/strategy fatigue can cause cynicism among the public – but we firmly believe this document is a worthy blueprint all Aucklanders can and should embrace. It sets out many tangible actions starting now, as well as those who will play a key role in delivering them.
Destination AKL 2025 has a clear emphasis on "destination management" – or ensuring future growth in visitor numbers is sustainably managed and of benefit to Auckland, rather than simply attracting more visitors. It's also about understanding tourism can act as a catalyst for conservation and improvement of the environment, and maintenance of local diversity and culture.
It's essential we find a better balance: we need to make sure visitors continue to feel welcome and have a great Auckland experience, but at the same time, we must proactively manage the impact visitors have on our city.
There are plenty of international examples that illustrate the impact of rising visitor numbers on a community and a city. Auckland is not immune to this and we do not need to look far for anecdotal evidence: the pressure on Waiheke Island's infrastructure during peak season is a source of frustration for locals and surprise for visitors.
As we eye further significant growth in visitor numbers in the next few years, the time is right to introduce a much stronger focus on destination management.
A good example of destination management in action in Auckland is Great Barrier Island – which last year was the first island in the world to become an International Dark Sky Sanctuary, in a bid to protect its night skies for present and future generations.
The island community, Auckland Council, Ateed, the Great Barrier Island Local Board, and private operators including transport and accommodation providers worked together to achieve this status. The end result is an ecotourism attraction that will help the island grow its economy in a sustainable way – creating something that will attract visitors to the island year-round and protecting the natural environment by minimising light pollution.
Great places to live, work and visit only stay that way if we look after them. We must work together more effectively to minimise the potential negative impacts of tourism on the environment and on host communities, while maximising the benefits of jobs, wealth and support for local culture and industry – and protection of the built and natural environment.
This is the moment for us to take a stand. All involved in the visitor economy can take a lead on ensuring that we future-proof Auckland for tomorrow's visitors and Aucklanders alike.
Steve Armitage is Ateed's general manager for destinations. To find out more about Destination AKL 2025 visit www.aucklandnz.com/destinationakl