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Future Options Charted For Westland Tourism

- major report presented to District Council -

Establishment of a tourism advisory board, drafting of a tourism charter involving the community and the industry, greater Maori participation, and some use of the Government’s West Coast Compensation Fund for infrastructural development - these are among key recommendations of a Public Good Science Fund funded report on tourism in Westland presented to Westland District Council today. (16.8.01)

The Report also says there is an urgent need for strategic tourism planning on the West Coast as a whole with broad-based community participation as a cornerstone and territorial local authorities giving the lead.

Titled Tourism in Westland: Challenges for Planning and Recommendations for Management, the report was prepared by Lincoln University Professor of Tourism David Simmons and rural sociologist Dr John Fairweather of the University’s Tourism Recreation Research and Education Centre. It synthesizes nine earlier reports and the overall aim is to improve the management of tourism growth and development in Westland and help establish better guidelines to ensure its sustainability.

“To date tourism has enjoyed a relatively harmonious relationship with Westland residents however our research shows that the region is on the verge of entering what has been called the development stage of tourism evolution,” says Professor Simmons.

“This is marked by increasing outside investment and a gradual loss of local control over decision-making.

“We suggest that the District Council take note of this and that it should also be concerned about the potential for an over-reliance on tourism.

“A level of 30 percent local economic dependence on tourism has been suggested as a crucial phase because of the potential for fluctuations in tourism demand. Westland is rapidly approaching this point.”

The report says that many residents do not realise that tourism has experienced a transition into the largest, if not the largest sector in Westland’s economy.

“The growing economic importance of tourism should not be underestimated,” says Professor Simmons.

“Already key growth indicators such as increases in guest arrivals and guest nights for the West Coast exceed the national figures significantly.

“Last year, for example, arrivals and guest nights nationally grew by 18.2 and 14.3 percent respectively while for the West Coast they were up 23.8 and 20.3 percent respectively. Overall, tourism on the West Coast has been growing at an average of 13.4 percent annually over the past three years.

“Today many people are looking to tourism as an engine for growth for Westland as the Coast moves away from primary production and extractive activities,” says Professor Simmons.

“The challenge - and the purpose of our report - is to help manage tourism growth in ways that do not harm either the natural or the built environment.

“Our earlier research shows that tourism can rapidly become problematic when there are high flows over sparsely populated areas such as is the case in Westland. The West Coast as a whole, for example, has more than 820,000 visitors per year over a population of only about 35,000.”

Twenty-nine percent of all jobs in Westland District depend either directly or indirectly on tourism and the total direct spending by tourists is estimated to be $108 million with “flow-on” effects generating many more millions for the District.

Underpinning this growth in tourism and the economic benefits it brings to the district is the West Coast’s unique natural environment. And the report writers point out that tourism growth and its benefits are dependent on the maintenance and enhancement of the West Coast’s unique natural environment.

In the process of enjoying this “unique natural environment” tourists inevitably consume water and produce solid waste and wastewater and the research team modeled tourist water use and wastewater production at Hokitika, Harihari, Franz Josef and Haast, along with the adequacy and resourcing of facilities.

They found that the demand for water supply and wastewater disposal, given the projected tourism growth, would lead to design capacity being exceeded in some areas.

Solid waste disposal is also reaching limits and potable water supplies are of low standard, says the synthesis Report.

Two key tasks are indicated. First, the need to develop water and waste disposal systems at an appropriate level to meet existing standards. Second, the need to model and build capital works to meet anticipated peak demand driven largely by tourism. For both of these equity in pricing - between residents and tourists and between generations - is a crucial issue.

The Report goes on to say that as tourist numbers continue to increase more urgent attention is needed in providing adequate infrastructure such as roads, bridges, sewerage systems, water supplies, rubbish collection and disposal, campervan dumping facilities and public toilets.

If Westland is promoted as a ‘clean and green’ destination tourists will react adversely if confronted with evidence of human effluent, littering and unsightly rubbish dumps, says the Report.

The researchers made significant findings in the area of tourism and Maori development in Westland. Historically and currently there has been and is little involvement by Maori in tourism in Westland. Maori do however want a presence and they see potential in eco-tourism, and they are keen to control and manage any Maori tourism developments.

There was a positive overall response to tourism among Maori and a strong indication of wanting to develop Maori tourism, says the Report. Maori did however express serious concerns about the inappropriate use of Maori culture, the homogenising of Maori culture and the lack of Maori tourism development.

For some runanga members the natural environment, which is a significant part of their culture, is seen as a major use of Maori taonga as a tourist attraction.

Numerous barriers to Maori tourism development were identified including lack of effective representation on mainstream tourism organisation, and among recommendations the Report suggests that a Maori tourism planning approach be developed and implemented at the national and regional level and that mechanisms be developed for linking and integrating Maori tourism planning in mainstream approaches.

In summary the synthesis Report says that while tourism in Westland appears to be at an economically and socially sustainable level at present, future growth will put key areas at risk particularly those associated with the broader environmental elements of tourism management.

“Institutionally Westland District Council does not yet have a robust, well-resourced institutional structure for tourism management at the level of sophistication of, for example, Rotorua,” say the Report’s authors.

“It is recommended therefore that a programme be established for reporting key tourism statistics in aggregate and that strategic planning processes be developed involving all territorial authorities - Department of Conservation, Westland District Council, Transit New Zealand and West Coast Tourism Council.”

In terms of infrastructure a key issue is the adequacy of environmental management and the appropriateness of pricing mechanisms for these services. It is noted that the provision of environmental services lags behind other places in New Zealand and for tourists themselves.

The report says that given the critical role of infrastructure for tourism (for both minor facilities such as toilets and major facilities such as water supply) a case can be made that it could be in Westland’s and the West Coast’s interest to use some of the government’s compensation fund to build infrastructure.

In terms of environment the Report says that long term policies, plans and design and management guidelines are needed to conserve the environmental qualities which underpin tourism at several scales - overall settings (eg. lake edges, urban fringes, main tourist routes), locations (eg. “downtown” areas), and sites (eg. glaciers). Formation of a charter or “other approach” involving the community and industry is recommended.

“Given the thrust of the strategies suggested in our report, Westland has the opportunity to be a leading example in demonstrating the benefits of tourism planning and thereby achieving sustainable tourism,” says Professor Simmons.

end

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