17 Feb 2021

Department of Conservation reveals new visitor strategy

7:53 pm on 17 February 2021

The Department of Conservation's new visitor strategy acknowledges more work needs to be done to manage iconic sites under pressure, but does not spell out what it will implement.

Milford Sound.

The new plan outlines the DOC's plan to become more active in influencing how, when and where visitors travel (pictured is Milford Sound). Photo: Unsplash / Peter Hammer

Today DOC unveiled its first heritage and visitor strategy in a quarter of a century.

It outlines the department's plan to become more active in influencing how, when and where visitors travel.

In the long term, DOC's strategy discussed setting up places to manage visitor pressure effectively.

"This means thinking about how to manage places differently. Often, it is not only the number of people visiting a place generating adverse effects, but also the way visitors interact with these places and travel to and from them.

"Investigating innovative ways to manage and influence visitor behaviour will increase the range of options available."

In the strategy, the department said it would explore new approaches, tactics and mechanisms to manage popular places.

Minister of Conservation Kiri Allan said DOC's first priority was to protect the natural and cultural heritage it was charged with caring for on behalf of New Zealanders.

Minister of Conservation Kiri Allan at the Hihiaua Centre in Whangārei on 5 February, 2021

Minister of Conservation Kiri Allan. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"New Zealanders live in one of the most incredible places on Earth-with a natural, cultural and historic environment like no other. More than ever, people want to visit public conservation land and waters to experience our unique heritage," Allan said.

"The Heritage and Visitor Strategy, launched today, provides a framework for DOC to navigate the changing context for visitors and realise potential benefits for conservation and all New Zealanders.

"The strategy aims to shift DOC into a more proactive space so it can anticipate and plan for future changes; and create opportunities for visitors to support productive, sustainable and inclusive economies and enhance community well-being."

The strategy also aims to ensure visitors and the tourism sector contribute directly or indirectly to ensure pressures on the conservation estate are better managed.

"This contribution could be planting a tree; it could be checking a trapline, caring for huts and tracks, or in the form of a donation. It could be through 'voluntourism' initiatives such as Operation Tidy Fox," she said.

The pandemic had highlighted how DOC needed to be able to quickly adapt to fluctuating visitor numbers and patterns in the short term, she said.

"The long-term implications of Covid-19 are yet to be seen, but in responding to the crisis and supporting recovery, there is an opportunity to reimagine a better future for New Zealand tourism."

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts said it was a relief to see the plan, which had been five years in the making.

Tourism Industry Aoteaora chief executive Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts. Photo: Supplied / TIA

"Our team's been heavily involved in the development of this strategy now over five years, and at one point we thought it would never ever emerge. It's important that it has," Roberts said.

"Mostly it's important for those who are in DOC so that everyone who's working there understands what they are trying to achieve in terms of connecting people with nature."

One of the strategy's three-year focus areas is working with the recreation and tourism sectors to identify opportunities for them to enhance their contribution to conservation.

Tourism operators were eager to pitch in and do their part to assist DOC, Roberts said, but they were hoping for more details about how that could work.

He did raise concerns that the new strategy could be stymied by regulations that were no longer fit for purpose.

"We see a lot of good intentions from DOC but time and time again they're hampered by the regulation and legislation they have to work within."

Trying to facilitate cycling in parts of the conservation estate was one example of the hurdles DOC faced with the rules, he said.

"It may well be to achieve some of the goals that DOC has set itself that there will need to be overhaul of the legislation that they work within."

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