A Hawke's Bay backpackers owner has fired back at new Tourism Minister Stuart Nash after he encouraged tourism operators to target wealthy tourists rather than backpackers and freedom campers.
Speaking at the Tourism Industry Association conference in Wellington, Napier MP Nash delivered a blunt message to tourism operators, saying there will be no return to a pre-Covid "business as usual" - and proposing a "reset".
Nash said the New Zealand tourism sector should target high-spending tourists in the future and charge them more, so local communities were not footing the bill for infrastructure and environmental impacts of tourism.
"No longer will New Zealand communities tolerate the worst of our freedom camping visitors, and nor should they. Some, but not all, have abused our renowned hospitality," he said.
"I firmly believe that the low-spending but high-cost tourist is not the future of our tourism industry."
However, Hastings-based Rotten Apple Backpackers manager Jason Claaffen Van Loggeneerg said backpackers not only make up a majority of remaining tourists, but will also be the first to return to New Zealand.
"Backpackers are going to be the ones who come back first after Covid. They're banging at the doors, waiting for a vaccine. The richer guys will wait until things calm down," he said.
Claaffen Van Loggeneerg said not only are a lot of backpackers still in the country, they also provide further contributions to the country's economy through working alongside their stay.
"Nash has a point that the wealthy tourists will do the expensive boat trips and wine tours, but backpackers will jump in a car and do it themselves," he said.
"But not only are my guys spending money, but they also contribute with PAYE for the Government and fill an important role in New Zealand for fruit picking, packhouses and so on - so the backpacker industry is still extremely important.
"We've got guys here who earn around $990 a week and then not only pay tax, but also will spend that at farmers' markets and other local businesses," he added.
However, Hawke's Bay Tourism chief executive Hamish Saxton said New Zealand's response to Covid-19 has enhanced its reputation as a "desirable destination" that could elicit a premium from international visitors.
"The notion of driving higher value in our industry is one many would support and seek to benefit from," he said.
"This could be an investment in time by staying longer through slow tourism initiatives, through deeper engagement with our local communities or by an increase in visitor spend; all of which deliver unique value to our regions and our communities."
According to Hawke's Bay Tourism, in the 12 months to February 2020 (pre-Covid), tourism was worth $691.8 million to the local economy - only $164.8m of this was attributed to international tourists.
Nash also said there would be no "travel bubbles" until such arrangements were deemed safe.
"My ambition is that once global borders open, New Zealand is considered by the world's most discerning travellers as one of the top three places in the world to visit," he said.
He said the Government had already offered up a $400m Tourism Recovery Package and almost $2b of wage subsidy support had gone to tourism operators.