Context and challenge

Like all other industries, tourism needs to evolve so that short-term financial benefits do not come at the expense of the planet or the cultural or community well-being over the longer term.

As a global society, we stand at a crossroads. Regardless of the interruption from COVID-19, a new pathway is needed. Economic growth has lifted standards of living for many; but the environmental and social trade-offs of short-termism are reaching crisis point on many fronts. Recent research shows that we are not on track to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals without a significant shift of mindset, behaviour and economic transformation.

In Aotearoa New Zealand and around the world, ecological life-supporting systems are in decline, while levels of social inequality and poverty are rising. The climate crisis is the most immediate and pressing symptom of these externalised economic costs, but there are others on the horizon which are being accelerated and aggravated by climate change; namely, biodiversity loss and species extinction, water scarcity and quality, degradation of coastal ecosystems and oceans, soil erosion, poverty, obesity and deteriorating levels of mental health. These are among a litany of systemic problems that we are leaving to our children as a legacy of short-sighted success.

The local context

The Taskforce, along with the Advisory Group, spent time exploring past and current challenges associated with the tourism and visitor industry. There is little doubt that in some areas of Aotearoa New Zealand, the growth and intensity of tourism activities was undermining community goodwill for the industry with an increasing proportion of New Zealanders feeling that the increase in the number of international visitors was too high. In hindsight, the rapid growth of tourism has exposed a range of challenges which can be grouped under the following themes:

  • Mismatch and inadequacy of funding and investment mechanisms for infrastructure at local and national level.
  • Negative impacts on the environment and the health of Aotearoa New Zealand’s natural assets.
  • Ineffective, fragmented and siloed industry structure, governance and management arrangements.
  • Limited career opportunities and the wellbeing of those working within the industry.
  • Haphazard relationship with local communities and community engagement.
  • Limited product development, innovation and uptake of technology.

How we respond

Increasingly, society expects businesses to show corporate responsibility and play their part in creating a thriving future for tomorrow’s children. Sustainability is no longer seen by many as radical, but as a necessary evolution for which the business case is already well established*.

For Aotearoa New Zealand to reach its full potential as a nation, our natural environment and ecological systems must thrive, our people and communities must thrive, and our economy must thrive. The tourism and visitor industry (along with other industries) has a very important role to play and can be an effective means of achieving these goals.

The tourism industry is perfectly poised to seize this opportunity for Aotearoa New Zealand. Tourism is the business of welcoming, healing and sharing. The very nature of the visitor-host relationship provides connection, learning and wellbeing that have a profound impact on people’s lives.

*Friede et al (2015), Esg And Financial Performance: Aggregated Evidence From More Than 2000 Empirical Studies(external link)

The potential for Aotearoa New Zealand's tourism industry to enrich the lives of visitors, while simultaneously enriching the lives of New Zealanders and Te Taiao, is a logical, possible and necessary evolution.

Both domestic and international visitors travelling within Aotearoa New Zealand come to experience and be inspired by our spectacular biodiversity, amazing ecology and unique cultural heritage. By protecting and enhancing those treasures through the way the industry operates, we will realise the potential for an industry that creates more value and thrives over the long term.

What is regenerative tourism?

A regenerative tourism sector is one that enhances the capability of all stakeholders to thrive and evolve by creating net benefits across social, cultural, environmental and economic wellbeings; that is, tangible material and non-material benefits after all costs have been taken into account. In real terms, this means that tourism experiences will:

  • Enrich visitors in ways that show genuine care and enable life-changing experiences.
  • Provide meaningful work; and opportunities for those working in the industry to develop and grow.
  • Be enriched by the values of Te Ao Māori.
  • Improve the health of our natural ecosystems.
  • Contribute to the unique essence, culture and health of local communities and their places.
  • Generate sustainable financial returns and support further regenerative development.