Think Barcelona, Mallorca, Amsterdam and Venice – cities that have traditionally relied on and developed because of tourism, but where many believe have reached their tipping point where the level of tourism has become unsustainable.
The growth of tourism around the world in many cases has outstripped local infrastructure, and, amongst other insults to injury, the high cost of living is driving locals from their hometowns.
It's a cautionary tale of supply and demand. While most of New Zealand is not yet experiencing such a degree of tourism overload, some of our most popular icons such as the Fiordland tracks are starting to strain under the pressure.
In Northland, our own Bay of Islands reaches capacity at peak times and, like others, there are issues with free and independent travellers, however on the whole, we are far from the capacity issues that the European cities are experiencing.
A major issue for the tourism industry in New Zealand is about spreading the benefits more widely and dispersing visitors around New Zealand. Related to that, infrastructure and new tourism offerings to support regional dispersal are needed. Then there are environmental concerns from over-visited spots.
For Northland to maximise returns from tourism and disperse visitors more widely, so that the benefits of tourism spread to communities throughout Northland, there is work to be done.
On the supply side we need to ensure that Northland offers a wide range of tourism experiences, and it must deliver a comprehensive marketing programme that puts Northland at the top of the list for visitors.
But we also want those visitors that will stay longer and spend more, and for that we need engaging year-round, all-weather experiences and targeted marketing. In these ways Northland can determine its future in tourism and be a good and willing host.
To address environmental concerns tourism should be a contributor and a solution for Northland. Northland Inc as the regional economic development agency and tourism organisation is working to address these challenges with a host of regional and national partners and the future looks bright.
In the latest tranche of the Government's provincial growth funding, all four of the Northland projects earmarked (Bay of Islands Airport upgrade and upgrading wharves in Paihia, Russell and Opua) will enhance the visitor experience and prepare for greater numbers.
The Government has rightly identified that not all regions can afford the vital infrastructure needed to support growth, but that it is essential if we are to minimise growth impacts and maximise returns to the region. However, there is also a real job to be done in developing tourism experiences that deliver on regional aspirations as well as meeting visitor expectations.
Tourism is now New Zealand's largest export industry. It impacts differently in different regions. Sixty-five per cent of all tourism happens in the five largest destinations;
Auckland, Wellington, Rotorua, Queenstown and Christchurch, leaving the rest of New Zealand to share 35 per cent of tourism's activity. Spreading the national load in the coming growth will be important.
In Northland tourism contributes 8.9 per cent of Northland's GDP; it employs 8800 Northlanders; is the sixth largest regional destination recording just under two million guest nights and a visitor spend of $1.1billion in the year ended December 2017.
Northland is and will be a significant part of the New Zealand solution.
Tourism is an industry where New Zealand's relative distance from the rest of the world has worked in our favour so far. We have watched keenly the rise and impact of tourism overseas, and we have had time to take notes and consider our options. We are in a strong position internationally.
In cities like Barcelona and Venice "tourist" can be a dirty word to some locals, but tourism is the world's largest employer – it is not an industry that's going away, so the question is, how do we protect physical, cultural and historical assets and manage or even reduce environmental impact?
The answer lies in creating our own unique offerings, making tourism part of our environmental solutions, targeting the right markets and managing our growth.
■ Dr David Wilson is the chief executive officer of Northland's Economic Development Agency, Northland Inc, and chair of Economic Development NZ.