18 Nov 2020

Tourism providers split over minister's freedom camper rhetoric

7:09 pm on 18 November 2020

Some tourism operators say their new minister should not be so dismissive of the benefit of backpackers to the country, and they are not so sure of the wonderful flow-on effects of wealthy visitors either.

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Minister of Tourism Stuart Nash. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

New Minister of Tourism Stuart Nash today said he wanted to ban the use of campervans which were not self-contained, to stop tourists pulling over and using the waterways as a toilet.

He also said there was no point in trying to attract backpackers and low-value tourists.

Nash told Morning Report he wanted the focus to be firmly on attracting the wealthiest of tourists, but his first target would be banning tourists hiring cheap sleeping vans with no on-board toilet facilities.

Motel chain Bella Vista Accommodation's general manager Rob Burnell said he thought the new minister might need to do a bit more research about the typical New Zealand tourist.

"When the tourism minister states [we're] only interested in tourists who fly business class and eat at high-end restaurants, that does not really represent the type of tourists who have been coming to New Zealand for however many decades, so that is a concern."

He said the minister might find attracting primarily wealthy tourists a lot tougher than he expected.

Budget Backpackers Hostels operator Gerald Moull said wealthy tourists had long been the focus of New Zealand Tourism, so he saw no change in the minister's comments.

He agreed with the minister's call for a ban on non-self-contained sleeper vans, and for councils - and ratepayers - to stop subsidising freedom campers.

"We have the silly situation where hostels are trying to make a living and they're having to pay their rates, and those rates are going towards providing free parking places and facilities for people who would have stayed in backpackers."

Hospitality New Zealand chief executive Julie White said backpackers' benefits to the country should not be dismissed, as they travelled widely and often stayed for a long time.

That was not the case for the high-end visitors, she said.

"They don't actually disperse the money around the community," White said.

"They seem to come in, they stay at the luxury lodge. Everything is co-ordinated by the concierge so that small business operator doesn't get to see any of that value, that dollar, it doesn't actually circulate."

Freedom camping. Campervan.

The new minister of tourism, Stuart Nash, said today that he wanted to ban the use of campervans which were not self-contained. Photo: Unsplash / Rosan Harmens

New Zealand Motor Caravan Association chief executive Bruce Lochore said he wanted to get more details from Nash about his intentions before rushing to judgement.

He wanted to make sure that travellers were not alienated.

"Freedom camping is a very emotional subject," Lochore said.

"I know people have a strong view one way or the other. And we know what the issues are and what the minister is trying to achieve, we just have to be careful we don't throw the baby out with the bathwater."

Lochore said he would like to have a good discussion with the minister about the future of camping, both freedom and paid camping.

Spaceships boss James Rolleston believed the ban would ruin his campervan hire business, and showed people did not know much about the kind of tourists that hired vans like his.

Spaceships has a fleet of 600 campervans countrywide, none of which have toilets onboard.

"We have 15 years of operating that business and we've put a huge amount of focus into education about how to camp, where to camp, how to look after the environment."

He called Nash's plan a "kick in the guts".

"It's actually a complex issue... I think just cubbyholing a business like Spaceship rentals is a bit rough."

His customers could spend up to a month in the country, travelling around and spending money, he said.

Part of the problem for freedom camping was inadequate infrastructure, Rolleston said.

"Ultimately I think there has been a serious lack of investment in infrastructure around the country for a long time."

Building more quality toilets that were not locked at night and were regularly cleaned was necessary, he said.

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