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The upside of the bug

Kirstin Dunne says we already have a ready-made plan for the recovery of tourism.

The COVID-19 bug which is battering the Bay of Plenty Tourism industry has added a new level relevance and importance to Tourism Bay of Plenty’s new 30 year strategy for what it calls ‘regenerative tourism’.

“We don’t have to suddenly create a strategy for recovery,” says Tourism Bay of Plenty chief executive, Kristin Dunne.

“We think we are very well prepared with Te Ha Tapoi – The Love of Tourism. I wouldn’t like to be bragging and saying everything is perfect but we do have a very solid plan to use.”

And it might just put Bay of Plenty a step ahead of other regions with its futuristic vision of tourism. The strategy is about regeneration rather than sustainability - sustainability suggesting survival, doing less bad, where regeneration suggests thriving and flourishing.  

“And COVID is in fact offering us an amazing opportunity to slow down, take stock and ask ourselves: ‘what sort of tourism we want in the future?’” says Kristin.

Globally renowned travel expert, Anna Pollock was in Tauranga this week supporting the launch of the new 30-year strategy.

“I am so pleased time and consideration has been invested in developing tourism that builds great net benefit for the community, as opposed to just focusing on attracting more and more visitors.

“What has changed is that travelers have changed,” says Kristin.

We tend to use the word tourist as if they are just one homogenous bunch. But Kristin says one of the most exciting things about tourism is that there are as many versions of what tourists want as there are tourists.

“It’s the quality of their experience, not just the quality of the visitor spend,” says Kristin. It’s about connecting tourists to our local communities. And she uses the example of offering tourists the chance to work alongside volunteers in the Otanewainuku Forest on Kiwi regeneration.

“It might be trapping or working in the forest itself. It’s a voluntary programme but locals could bring visitors into the mix and they would pay for the experience.

“That gives charitable organisations extra resources but that’s also really transformational experience.

“They get to work alongside a lovely local who’s extremely knowledgeable about what they are doing and it’s something they couldn’t do anywhere else in the world.”

So when talking a cultural connection between visitors and local host communities the strategy isn’t necessarily just talking Maori culture.

“It could also be horticulture, the arts, it might be our surf culture.” It’s about building and connecting visitors who share passions.

The ‘conscious tourism pioneer’ Anna Pollock says tourism can no longer continue to just extract value.

“It must become a revitalising force that pays its way, protects and enriches the people and places on which it depends and enables people to thrive over the longer term.”

She points to the first signs of over-tourism beginning to appear in New Zealand.

“The traditional model is at risk of doing more harm than good environmentally and economically by contributing to resource scarcity and placing unprecedented pressure on land, water and energy.”

Examples could be Tongariro Crossing, Queenstown and Roys Peak.

“From an over tourism perspective it’s a bit like the Himalayas,” says Kristin.

“There’s a queue up Mt Everest. Not that visitors are bothered, they’re used to high population. But it’s very foreign to New Zealanders to see streams of people walking on a nature path. We’re not comfortable with it and we’re not supporting the environment to handle that volume.”

Kristin says when we are thinking about potential new opportunities for tourism, we are not just thinking from an economic perspective but also from a social perspective, and also the impact on the environment.

“And we’re trying to use and partnership with iwi and hapu to base our decisions, so that changes everything.”

The Te Ha Tapoi/ The Love of Tourism Model draws heavily on the Maori values of katiakitanga, guardianship and protection and manaakitanga or hospitality.

What about tourists who come for a quick, different and exciting experience like climbing Mauao or walking the base track. Will that still be an option? 

“The answer is yes, but there might be more management in place to control numbers at sites. That would be better for the place, the visitors and the local community.”

It’s a more holistic, connected and ethical approach to tourism.

And, anyhow, there is research telling Tourism Bay of Plenty that visitors don’t want to do so many traditional touristy things anymore.

“They want to come and immerse themselves in our culture and understand our culture. The Te Ha Tapoi/ The Love of Tourism strategy is clearly trying to attract the eco-traveler, the cultural explorer, the ones who really do want to come and immerse themselves.”

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