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Which tourists are still welcome in New Zealand?

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Status: 01/22/2023 2:28 p.m

Before Covid, 20 percent of New Zealand’s export earnings came from tourism. Then the borders were closed for two years. But now tourists are welcome again. But really all?

By Sandra Ratzow, ARD Studio Singapore

When the New Zealand Minister of Tourism, Stuart Nash, publicly wished for tourists who didn’t just live on packet soup and go wild camping, he made international headlines.

To maintain New Zealand’s clean, green image, the country is debating how many more tourists it wants, and more importantly, which ones.

Leana Schild and Daniel Ziehli from Switzerland are therefore unfolding camping tables and chairs outside of Queenstown. The two 24-year-olds want to be on the road in New Zealand for a total of eight months.

They bought their camper van cheaply from a local at the airport, says Ziehli: “Rental cars are very expensive here. And if things go well, we can sell the camper van for the same at the end, and then there would only be the cost of living – and the rest would be funded.”

Switzerland’s Leana Schild and Daniel Ziehli are not the kind of “sophisticated” tourists that New Zealand’s tourism minister is particularly keen to attract. Image: ARD Studio Singapore/Sandra Ratzow

“Don’t spend marketing budget on these people”

They are not exactly the dream visitors that New Zealand’s tourism minister has in mind. He called for discerning tourists who are willing to spend money.

Nash now puts it more cautiously:Some Americans have taken to social media to brag about driving around New Zealand in their campervan and living on $10 a day. They had fun, good for them.”

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But the point is: “We shouldn’t spend our limited marketing budget on these people, because we are very attractive to this backpacker clientele anyway.”

The New Zealand Minister of Tourism, Stuart Nash, has publicly wished for tourists who don’t just live on packet soup and go wild camping. Image: ARD Studio Singapore/Sandra Ratzow

Doubling of campers in one year

Campervans are a common sight again now that tourists are allowed into the country after two years of pandemic-related border closures. But New Zealand does not want to go back to the conditions before the pandemic. The number had doubled from 110,000 campers to 245,000 within a year.

That was no longer manageable in cities like Queenstown. That’s why there are now more and more signs like this one in popular places: No “Freedom Camping”, no more free camping allowed. Penalty: $200 immediately. Campervan rental companies have also had to adapt. A mini toilet is now a must for campers, who are also allowed to stop at campsites without showers and toilets.

Fewer tourists who are supposed to pay more

The pandemic has made the tourism industry think. New Zealand can’t just carry on as before, says Brad Alexander, operator of a luxury lodge two hours from Queenstown. In his opinion, the number of tourists should be limited and, above all, they should pay more.

“You can go to the national parks without paying a fee,” says Alexander. “You can take advantage of the great hiking trails without spending an extra dollar.” After all, that is not the case in many other countries.

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Brad and Breidi Alexander run a luxury lodge in New Zealand. They want fewer tourists in the country who spend more on it. Image: ARD Studio Singapore/Sandra Ratzow

Is there a “departure tax”?

Adventure holidays in New Zealand – this could become more expensive in the future. Because sustainability has a price. Many have had a rethink. In the future, tourists should not only bring something for the gross domestic product, say industry insiders. Better fewer who stay longer and do something for the environment.

A commission chaired by the Environment Minister proposed years ago to introduce a departure tax for tourists. This should reflect the CO2 footprint of travelers. The principle: the further someone flies and the shorter they stay in New Zealand, the higher the fee. The government does not yet dare to follow this suggestion. The tourism industry has to make money again after Covid.

But experts like University of Otago tourism professor James Higham say there is no way around such a tax. “We can no longer ignore the carbon footprint of travel to and from New Zealand. This is the Achilles’ heel of New Zealand’s tourism.” And this challenge must be actively tackled.

To maintain New Zealand’s clean, green image, the country is debating how many more tourists it wants, and more importantly, which ones. Image: ARD Studio Singapore/Sandra Ratzow

The two “Freedom Campers” from Switzerland are doing well financially this month – even though they have been looking for a place on the South Island for a long time. “In areas like Queenstown and Wanaka, which are very touristy, they’re very limited, and you can mostly stand two nights at a ‘freedom camp’ and no more,” says Leana Schild.

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The dream of “freedom camping” is not yet over in New Zealand – but it could soon become more expensive.

You can see the detailed report on the subject in Weltspiegel – on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. in the first.

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