Some problems are nice to have. Most of New Zealand's problems today are those of prosperity and population growth — catering for it and controlling its environmental impacts. Those problems are particularly large in Auckland. Not only is it a magnet city for immigrants but, Aucklanders might be surprised to learn, it is also the country's largest tourist destination. Catering for them is a major industry in the city and improving their experience is the aim of a new project launched by the Auckland Council's tourism arm, Ateed, yesterday.
Destination AKL 2025, we report today, is not trying to boost numbers or hold tourists here for a few more days before they go on to the country's better-known attractions, which was the aim of Ateed's last project. That might still be the wish of those in the hospitality business, especially those now paying a special rate of Ateed's upkeep, but the agency has brought in Martin Snedden to head an industry leaders' group for this project and he tells us today, "We don't want Aucklanders resenting visitors. This is a bit of a shift."
By changing the thrust from the quantity to the quality of visits, Snedden expects the project will be better received. For quality means addressing many of the problems that concern residents as well as tourists. Those include beach closures after rain, traffic congestion, the limitations of public transport. Tourists generally do not have their own vehicles and Auckland lacks a central bus terminal. It must be a difficult place for visitors to get around.
It also means filling labour shortages in the hospitality sector, especially if immigration in that category is to be reduced. One of Ateed's stated aims is to develop a training and employment strategy in the sector for Auckland's youth.
But the focus is not entirely on problems. Improving Auckland as a tourism destination also means adding to its attractions and enriching its culture for citizens as well as visitors. Snedden is calling that "authenticity". He says, "Authentic strength is when visitors encounter a place where the people there really love it. They love to live there and work there."
There is much to love about Auckland, which citizens sometimes only realise when they take a visitor to a high vantage point and look down on the harbour and Gulf and the city sprawling along its lovely coasts. Some of the most popular vantage points are being closed to vehicles to restore their authenticity as sites sacred to Māori. Much more could be done to put New Zealand's indigenous culture in front of Auckland's visitors.
Other cultures should be more evident too. Ateed points out that Auckland is the country's most diverse region, where nearly half the population is Asian or Polynesian. Visitors should quickly realise they have come to an authentic city of the Pacific and one that also shares an ocean with Asia.
Growth cannot be ignored, visitor numbers will continue to rise as long as the national economy remains sound, and a new convention centre is about to be added to Auckland's attractions. But Ateed's focus is changing to what it calls "destination management", concentrating on the quality and sustainability of those attractions. If it can turn fine words into visible results, Auckland will be an even better place.