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Sustainability at every level - Mark Burton

Hon. Mark Burton
4 March 2004
Speech

Sustainability at every level: Keynote Speech to Green Globe 21 Sustainable Tourism Conference

The Importance of Sustainable Tourism Development

Good afternoon. It is a real pleasure to be speaking at a conference which has as its focus the key issue for the New Zealand tourism sector–sustainable development.

It is also a pleasure to be able to address you today as partners with the government in New Zealand’s most valuable and important industry.

When I became Minister of Tourism four years ago, no such relationship existed.

There wasn’t even a recent history of partnerships—even though tourism generates close to ten percent of New Zealand’s GDP, is directly and indirectly responsible for one in eleven jobs, supports over 15,000 businesses, and is one of our largest earners of foreign exchange—poised to take over from dairy as our number one export earner within the next two years.

I think it is fair to say that the industry’s importance cannot be overstated, nor can the need for the government and the entire sector to work together to maximise its potential.

Tourism is an economic powerhouse, with huge potential for economic return and social benefit. It has grown over the past few years to the point that we can’t imagine being without it—nor would we want to be!

Now, Kiwis generally know, at least in part, why the sector is so successful.

After all, we have a lot going for us here in New Zealand—a spectacularly beautiful natural environment, the diverse attractions of our day-to-day lifestyle, a vibrant, sophisticated arts and cultural heritage, the uniqueness of our Maori culture, and the reputation of our friendly, warm people.

We have certainly received unprecedented international publicity in recent times—not the least of which is Peter Jackson’s historic 11-Oscar win earlier this week—and our popularity as a destination seems to be growing almost by the day. (With so many New Zealand accents at the ceremony, you could be forgiven for thinking it was actually being held at Wellington’s Embassy Theatre!)

2003 was another record year for our tourism sector. New Zealand welcomed over two million international visitors for the second year running, realising a three percent increase on 2002’s all-time high.

The recent release of visitor arrival figures for January 2004 showed an 11 percent increase on 2003, continuing the growth trend.

But with success comes responsibilities across all aspects of the sector that we cannot ignore in the pursuit of short-term fiscal gain.

No—we must instead work together to build a sustainable and, I suggest, yield-driven industry—one that strikes a balance between managing the impacts of tourism on the environments of our unique nation, and reaping its potential economic benefits.

To quote from the New Zealand Tourism Strategy 2010, “sustainable development is critical otherwise the benefits of tourism will be short lived.”

We must manage growth without risking the integrity of our tikanga, our communities, or our environments.

Maximising the advantages of tourism is important but so too is ensuring that every aspect of our culture and environment is conserved, protected, and, wherever possible, enhanced.

Here in Kaikoura, it is impossible to overlook the importance of the environment to ensuring that the delivered product matches its marketing. I am proud to be discussing these ideas today in the town known to many as the eco-tourism capital of New Zealand—although for local operators this may be a case of preaching to the choir!

Kaikoura’s benchmarking to the Green Globe 21 community standard is proof of its commitment to environmental conservation.

The New Zealand Tourism Strategy 2010

Strategy 2010 set the challenge of having “all operators and organisations recognising the value of the natural environment and actively protecting, supporting and promoting its sustainability as a fundamental part of what they do.”

The Strategy also advanced the view that sustainability requires greater integration between destination management and destination marketing.

In response to this recommendation, Tourism New Zealand has developed a profile of New Zealand’s ideal visitor, to help the sector attract the type of visitors they can best satisfy and who will be actively interested in sustaining our culture and environment while providing a high economic return.

These guests, called “interactive travellers”, are high-yield, low-impact visitors who tend to stay longer and spend more.
They are drawn to our landscape and natural beauty, place a high value on interaction with our people, respect our environment, culture and societal values, and want to get off the beaten track and really experience New Zealand.

The ‘interactive traveller’ concept is about applying our sustainability strategies to Tourism New Zealand’s international marketing work. By actively seeking visitors who match our goals, TNZ is helping future-proof the New Zealand tourism experience.

These visitors not only expect a pristine environment—there is clear evidence that they actively contribute to keeping it that way. Many visitors want to play their part—looking for recycling bins and preferring to hire energy-efficient cars.

And, perhaps most importantly, these guests often return to favourite spots, so it is to their own advantage to protect the environments they plan to visit again.

Targeting these ideal visitors is a key factor in achieving sustainability.

Marketing New Zealand as ‘100% Pure’

New Zealand markets itself as a 100% Pure, quality destination—a powerful image which is infused into all of Tourism New Zealand’s global marketing activity. This successful campaign has created a compelling message about what the New Zealand experience is really about—authenticity.

And I’m here to tell you—it’s working. Research has shown that a high percentage of travellers associate New Zealand with the 100% Pure New Zealand message.

This simple, clear campaign is cutting through the deafening noise of the international tourism market to gain world attention.

Just a few short years ago, New Zealand was a not particularly well-known destination way down at the bottom of the globe.

This year, TNZ’s marketing campaign was honoured in New York City.

Out of a field of 1500 competitors from over 50 countries, TNZ won a top international public relations award for the 100% Pure campaign, along with winning gold for the documentary The Royal Tour, made in association with the Discovery Channel and hosted by Prime Minister Helen Clark.

And just last week, the campaign won the 2004 Grand Award for Marketing by the Pacific Asia Travel Association.

Tourism New Zealand has worked tirelessly with the sector over the past four years to promote New Zealand as a boutique, high-quality, sophisticated destination—a place that is not only spectacularly beautiful, but creative and culturally diverse as well.

Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor, and the Lord of the Rings cast and crew have been an unbelievable ambassadors for New Zealand, absolutely dedicated to making sure the world knows that our country is far more than just the awe-inspiring landscapes of Middle Earth.

He has been committed from the beginning to profiling the Lord of the Rings to the international film industry as a wholly New Zealand project—in front of the camera, behind the camera, and in the workshops. To see him reinforce that image on Oscar night, for an audience of 73 million people from around the world is absolutely invaluable.

Whale Rider, too, has given the world a very special glimpse of our unique culture and heritage. On an entirely different scale, Niki Caro and her team have illustrated our talent at telling powerful, moving, and distinctly New Zealand stories that speak to people all over the world.

The government has worked with Tourism New Zealand to leverage off these high-profile events, as well as implementing a regional programme to develop our potentially lucrative cultural tourism market, and allocating significant extra funding to extend the successful 100% Pure campaign in key markets such as the United States.

There are, of course, other achievements. This year, two New Zealand lodges were named among the world’s best in the prestigious Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report.

The staff at Lonely Planet named New Zealand as the world’s best destination for the second year in a row.
All this tells me that not only have we defined our ideal visitors—we are getting the message to them.

It’s another part of building sustainability.

Government Support of Sustainability

Last year, we took stock of what we have achieved in the two years following the release of Strategy 2010. One of our aims was to lift the capability of businesses to adopt sustainable practices. I’m happy to say that real progress has been made in this area.

The government has worked in partnership with the industry to develop accreditation schemes and assistance programmes to equip operators with the skills and mechanisms they need to develop and market a sustainable operation.

We have invested $2.5 million in the expansion of Qualmark, which was repositioned in 2002 as New Zealand tourism’s official quality assurance agency, and branded with a new quality mark that incorporates the silver fern, New Zealand’s internationally recognised symbol. The new brand is now visible in Tourism New Zealand’s programmes, and Qualmark’s campaigns and publicity.

The Qualmark licensing system has experienced significant growth, and now comprises two quality assurance systems – a classification and star grading system for accommodation, and a quality endorsement system for other tourism businesses.

So, in addition to the accommodation sector, virtually any type of tourism business can now apply for a licence to use the Qualmark - from adventure activities, cultural, and nature experiences to rental car companies, bus and coach operators, museums, tours, retail, cafes and more.

Over 1100 businesses have now become Qualmark affiliated, as more and more operators recognise the benefits that being associated with the programme provides.

We have also made significant investment in supporting environmental awareness and accreditation through Green Globe 21, and are working to implement the Sustainable Development for New Zealand Programme of Action, released just over a year ago.

A Sustainable Industry Group, established by the Ministry for the Environment, is also now available to work with the New Zealand tourism industry to give stronger emphasis to act on sustainability issues.

For the past three months, the Group has been working with the Northland tourism sector to develop a sustainability charter and implement sustainable business practices.

Over the next 12 months, the Group will work with a number of tourism operators to help them assess their environmental and social impacts and identify opportunities to improve performance.

The industry, too, is playing its part. The Tourism Industry Association New Zealand is working to address capability issues by supporting members in adopting business best practice across their operations. A key tool has been their successful Tourism Business Builder CD-Rom resource kit, which covers a ‘triple bottom line’ approach to tourism.

Moreover, individual operators are focusing more and more on building sustainability into their own business plans. In my role as Minister, I have had the privilege of visiting many of these ventures, including the Hillside Hotel and Nature Resort, the Happy Valley Skywire Ride, and of course, Kaikoura’s very own Whale Watch.

All three are very different operations that clearly illustrate the industry’s growing focus on sustainability.

Hillside Resort takes a private 300-acre native forest reserve and conservation park situated on the edge of 2,275 acres of working beef, sheep and goat farm, and combines it with high-end accommodation, fine food and wine—giving discerning interactive travellers the very best of both worlds.
The innovative Happy Valley Skywire attraction fills an important niche in our adventure tourism market.

While its speeds of up to 100 kph certainly rank on the high end of the adrenaline scale, it is one step down from extreme tourism activities such as bungee jumping or skydiving. At the same time, they get to experience the magnificent panorama of the Abel Tasman and Kahurangi National Parks with the Tasman Ranges.

And Whale Watch has grown from a one-boat fledgling tourism venture in 1987 to a world-renowned, award-winning, high-tech operation which is the single largest employer in Kaikoura—all through offering guests the chance to safely interact with New Zealand’s unique natural environments and sea life.

The success of Whale Watch has stimulated investment in new accommodation, restaurants, and other sea-based tourist ventures throughout Kaikoura—proving once again that sustainability and profitability can, if well planned and managed, go hand in hand.

All three of these ventures share elements in common. They have gone to extraordinary lengths to build within and alongside their surroundings to minimise the negative impacts on the environments, while maximising their guests’ appreciation and enjoyment of them.

Businesses such as these are only the tip of the iceberg. Many in the sector are becoming more actively focused on sustainability, both in their care and protection of the environment, and by actively attracting high-yield, low impact visitors.

A Challenge for the Industry

So, while we have clearly achieved a lot over the past three years, there is still a long way to go.

Operators play a critical part in ensuring that the unique qualities that differentiate us from the rest of the global market place are protected and cherished, while still accessible to visitors from New Zealand and around the world.

Many operators would like to do more, but may not know where to begin. They may also lack the time to investigate the options available to them.

And there may also be some nervousness in the sector about whether sustainability is just some sort of buzzword, the reality of which is just another business cost that small and medium sized enterprises may feel they cannot afford.

I don’t need to outline to you the long-term benefits of adopting sustainable business practices (preaching to the choir again!). Many firms also experience immediate benefits in terms of savings on the bottom line.

And if “clean green New Zealand” is going to be anything more than a catch phrase, it is vital that we think strategically, making plans for the future rather than focussing on the “here and now” of day to day operations.

Today, I put a challenge to the entire sector. The future of our industry rests on each and every one of you adopting sustainable practices in everything you do, and ensuring that the product you deliver is of exceptional quality.

I encourage you all to make the most of the opportunities available to you.

Investigate Green Globe as an option for your business, become Qualmark accredited, become a member of TIANZ. The opportunities abound, and I encourage you all, no matter what role you play in the sector, to become involved.

New Zealand is too small and too distant to ever focus on volume-based tourism—why on earth would we want to? We will never be the world’s cheapest destination—nor should we want be.

Rather, we must put our energies toward becoming the world’s most sought-after destination—sophisticated, culturally diverse, and offering exciting, stimulating, and inspiring opportunities year-round.

The sector is not, and should never become, commodity-based. New Zealand tourism should be a price-maker, not a price-taker—a position that can only be maintained if our visitors’ experience is always at a consistently high standard.

We must also take a more strategic approach to the pricing and positioning of our products.
Our industry’s long-term future depends on each and every visitor receiving a world-class service that meets or exceeds their expectations across the board.

We must make New Zealand the benchmark in international tourism, in accommodation, food, activities on offer, and environments to see and experience.

A sustainable future rests on acknowledging that tourism is a professional, high-quality industry—and yes, an economic powerhouse with serious but appropriate growth potential.

Every single one of you knows that tourism is not a hobby. It is a demanding profession, requiring skilled frontline staff who are absolutely dedicated to the kind of world-class service which will bring our guests back again and again.

If we are truly dedicated to long-term industry success, we will invest time and money into staff training and development, and we will reward staff properly for their invaluable contribution to this most exciting and potentially valuable industry.

We will foster an industry in which a generation of young people can confidently choose tourism as their career and who will, in turn, sustain the sector in the long term.
I say this to you, as representatives of the entire sector. If the challenge of truly sustainable tourism development is, on the one hand, economic development (issues such as jobs and regional development) and, on the other hand, is the protection, preservation and, wherever possible, enhancement of the natural and made environments of New Zealand—and I stress to you that this is indeed the challenge—then I am absolutely confident—we can do it.

It certainly won’t be easy, but it is achievable. And I commend each and every one of you here today, because you have already proved that sustainability is possible.

You are now, and will continue to be in the future, an integral part of how we will achieve this goal for our industry as a whole.

Let me conclude by saying this—we are fast becoming one of the world’s premiere destinations, with some of the most spectacular and distinctive natural environments to be found on the planet.

We have a culture that is diverse, colourful, and unique. Our people are friendly, hospitable, and proud of their country—if a little too shy about admitting it!

And we have achieved an internationally high profile—people know who we are, and they want to come here.

There remains much more to do. Building a truly sustainable industry may take a great deal of time and commitment – and keeping our focus firmly on these issues will take a great deal more! But that is what we have to do.

We are blessed with exceptional natural resources and opportunities.

It is our responsibility to safeguard them – for the benefit and enjoyment of all New Zealanders, and our guests – both now, and for future generations.

It is easy for us to forget that it is our environments, be they natural, made, or cultural, that so appeal to the high-yield, interactive travellers we seek, the same environments that many Kiwis often take for granted.

We need to try and stand back, and value all that is special about New Zealand in the way that our visitors do.

Because the day that we truly understand how unique and blessed we really are, sustainability will become second nature.

Thank you for the opportunity to join you today.

ENDS

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