2 Dec 2019

Artificial intelligence, solar powered cameras for new responsible camping scheme

6:26 pm on 2 December 2019

Artificial intelligence, solar powered cameras and special ambassadors are the latest initiatives to encourage responsible camping this summer.

Freedom camping. Campervan.

A range of new tactics for encouraging more responsible camping have been announced. Photo: Unsplash / Rosan Harmens

Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis announced the new initiatives today in a bid to help councils and communities better manage the upcoming surge in visitors.

The planned changes are being welcomed by communities most affected by freedom campers, who are now being dubbed "responsible campers" to try and encourage better behaviour.

Kaikōura District Councillor Neil Pablecheque said freedom camping had copped a bit of a reputation in the seaside settlement.

"It was everywhere. But what happened was we had certain areas get over populated, where we had stuff on the beach and all that," Mr Pablecheque said.

"Some areas we had to close down because, I think, there was litter everywhere. Bad behaviour really."

Campermate Kaikōura

Kaikōura camping zones. Photo: Supplied

The Kaikōura district will be the canary in the coalmine for a new pilot showing campers where they can and can't stay using zones maps on the CamperMate app.

Mr Pablecheque hoped the programme would make a difference to the communities where campers stay.

"I just think that they haven't been educated, they just don't know. You come to a country and you don't know the rules. It's like when you go on holiday, you turn up but there's never been any apps or any rules stated, even signage," he said.

"You go around New Zealand, there's not much signage, but hopefully now we'll have the signage, we'll have the apps and they'll have all of the information that they need. It will be interesting to see if they still, some of them are behaving badly after this," he said.

Kaikōura resident Brian has lived in the area for more than 20 years and said while the zones were a good idea, campers should be paying to stay.

"The council should pick up money because the government is now paying people to give something free to somebody," he said.

"Most people would be happy to pay $10, $20, and if they did that, it would pay for itself."

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Kiwa Rd, near Kaikōura, is a popular freedom camping site in the summer. Photo: Chloe Ranford / LDR

At least 10 camping sites will be monitored by artificially intelligent, solar-powered cameras that show campers whether the campsite they planned to stay in is full via the CamperMate app.

During last year's smaller pilot, 90 percent of people chose another campsite when they discovered their first choice was full.

Tourism Export Council chief executive Judy Chen said the initiatives would hopefully solve some of the challenges traditional methods hadn't.

"Trying to monitor some of these sites can be quite tricky because it's very hard to have someone there 24/7 to really monitor and to manage the impact and the visitor flow, so using technology to obviously assist and hopefully reduce some of the negative impacts of these types of travellers is definitely a plus," Ms Chen said.

Regional Tourism New Zealand executive officer Charlie Ives said it was the right time to embrace new technology.

"I think we need to look at how users or how freedom campers are using technology and I think there's been growing use of various apps that are out there on the marketplace ... and I see that use as growing in the years to come," Mr Ives said.

The initiatives cost more than $700,000 and work as part of a wider multi-million dollar responsible camping campaign announced earlier in the year.

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Kelvin Davis. Photo: RNZ / Patrice Allen

Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis said $150,000 would go towards researching campers this summer.

"It's difficult to make informed decisions if you don't have the information and the data so that's why I'm very pleased to be able to do the research on the habits and the needs of our visitors, and then we can really target funding in future years to making sure that the money goes to the right place, we're addressing the right needs, that we're making sure that our visitors have the best experience possible," Mr Davis said.

The other initiatives include a new app for camping ambassadors to provide advice to campers, more funding for a Tourism New Zealand education campaign first launched last year and free access to the standard for self contained vehicles - which currently costs $70.

Responsible Camping Working Group co-chair and mayor of Rotorua Lakes, Steve Chadwick, said, for the first time, the CamperMate app would collect valuable data to show where visitors wanted to go

"We'll be much better informed about where we spend ratepayers valuable dollars matched with infrastructure from taxpayers," she said.

Mr Davis said if the initiatives were successful, some might be rolled out across the country.

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