Friday, 19 March 2021
The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton says that the greatest challenge facing New Zealand tourism is the greenhouse gases from international flights.
Launching this year’s Tourism Policy School (TPS) at a public lecture at the Heritage Hotel in Queenstown yesterday, he says the findings from his recently published report Not 100% – but four steps closer to sustainable tourism, highlight the need for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to ensure the future of international tourism.
He says existing tourism policies were designed to attract growth, and had dealt with the symptoms rather than the underlying problems of the tourism industry.
In his view the solution is to introduce a departure tax for both international tourists flying from New Zealand, and for New Zealanders flying overseas.
Mr Upton strongly recommends that all the money gained from a departure tax is used towards funding research into developing alternative fuel sources that are carbon emission free and to aid mitigation and adaption to global sea-level rise in the Pacific.
Mr Upton does not think that the current global pandemic will mark an end to international tourism as we know it, but sees it as a chance to make change now.
“In my view there has never been an easier time to introduce an international departure tax than now, when our borders are closed. Change is costly, but letting climate change continue unchecked is even more so.”
Noting that forms of a tax on international travel had been introduced in many countries he says New Zealand must act or be forced to when tourism numbers are expected to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2024.
“If there is any silver lining from COVID-19 it is using the chance now to make tourism more sustainable.”
He says in most cases getting to and from New Zealand accounts for more than half the greenhouse gas emissions generated from tourism.
Mr Upton’s latest report includes four proposals; introducing a departure tax, making future central Government funding for tourism infrastructure conditional on environmental criteria and alignment with mana whenua, increasing the Department of Conservation’s powers to protect the environment, and strengthening the existing standard for self-contained freedom camping.
“Tourism is designed to tell a story; the current challenge isn’t about weaving a new story. It’s about confronting some real physical problems that have a price tag. International air travel emissions have been treated as the elephant in the room.”
Mr Upton says that a fuel tax would be the easiest solution to international travel emissions, but due to the 1944 Chicago Civil Aviation Convention it would be almost impossible to do so. He does suggest that New Zealand could challenge this convention in the courts.
He says once international travel returns there will be a pent-up demand for people to travel again to see relatives, friends and others.
TPS Co-convenor and University of Otago Department of Tourism Professor James Higham says the pause in global tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to take stock and plan for a more sustainable future for what has been New Zealand’s major export earner.
The TPS is convened by the Otago Business School and the Department of Tourism at the University of Otago. It is a full day invite only event that takes place on Friday 19 March.
The theme of this year’s TPS is 'Net benefit tourism: A new approach’. The first TPS was held in Queenstown in 2019. Last year’s event was cancelled due to the global pandemic.
A booked-out audience of 160 people attended the public lecture on Thursday, which was provided at no charge through the generosity of University of Otago Business School; the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment; Destination Queenstown and Queenstown Lakes District Council.