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Burton Speech to Local Government NZ

Economic well-being: Mark Burton Speech to Local Government New Zealand Conference

Good afternoon everyone. I’d like to thank Caroline (Saunders) for an excellent beginning to this discussion on economic well-being.

My focus will be the tourism sector—an obvious choice as Tourism Minister! But it’s also highly relevant to you, in a local government context.

Tourism is New Zealand’s biggest industry—as of this year, even bigger than dairy. It is fundamental to New Zealand’s economy as a whole, as well as to the economies of many of our regions, towns, and even our smallest and most remote settlements.

And the sector is set to become even more important. In the 2002 – 2009 period, international visitor nights are projected to increase by more than 50 per cent. More importantly, international visitor spending will increase by nearly double that rate—over 90 per cent—up to $11.74 billion.

This will affect us all. Most of these visitors aren’t just going to get off the plane in Auckland and stay there. They will likely be heading out around the country, and potentially, spending significantly as they go.

Indeed, that’s exactly the profile of the visitors we are targeting

But as Caroline pointed out, economic well-being is not just about income or growth. On the contrary, it has to be about sustainability. Real well-being—not only for us, but for future generations—means looking after all of our capital—human, built, natural, social, and cultural. It’s about how our communities will live and work, well beyond the 21st century.

The tourism sector is increasingly aware of this. In 2001, I launched the New Zealand Tourism Strategy 2010. For the first time the tourism sector, both public and private, worked together to identify a vision for the future.

We agreed that tourism had to be sustainable, focusing on yield, and balancing tourism’s obvious economic benefits with the care, protection, and enhancement of New Zealand’s natural and made environments.

To achieve these goals, our first priority must be to focus on quality, not quantity. (I don’t think anyone wants us to become the Ibizia of the South Pacific) This means offering world-class product. It means active strategies to encourage our guests to visit some of our less well-known tourism destinations—not just at peak times, but all year round.

It also means that we have to target the kind of visitors who best match what New Zealand has to offer. We call them Interactive Travellers—visitors who want an authentic Kiwi experience. They don’t want to see New Zealand from behind a pane of glass on a bus.

Whether that means a rugby game at Eden Park, spending the night on a marae, enjoying world-class wine and cuisine in a picturesque vineyard restaurant, or even eating fish and chips on the beach, Interactive Travellers want it all. (I have even heard visitors appreciate experiences they don’t get in crowded cities at home, such as mowing the lawns—I’m sure we’d all be happy to volunteer some opportunities for visitors in this regard!)

But if communities are going to make the most of these opportunities, they have to identify key strengths and opportunities, and where more investment or work may be needed. As Caroline said, local government is in a unique position to do this.

Both central and local government have crucial roles to play in protecting our resources, and in anticipating and addressing the issues which are certain to arise. Central government has a key role in collecting, analysing, and distributing core tourism data, including visitor arrivals; their origins, activities, and spending; commercial accommodation; and forecasting. My Ministry collects this information and, importantly, it is freely available on the TRCNZ website.

Central government also has a key role in providing information, capacity building, and raising awareness of key issues. I have provided Tourism Strategy implementation funding to several projects undertaken by LGNZ and RTOs, to assist and inform successful planning for tourism in our regions (including Postcards from Home: the Local Government Tourism Strategy).

Later on today, I will be launching the Tourism Planning Toolkit—a resource funded through the Foundation for Research, Science, and Technology, and designed specifically for local government by Lincoln University, with direct input from LGNZ and the Ministry of Tourism.

The Toolkit will help you evaluate tourism’s contribution to your economy, assess community views of tourism, and plan to meet the needs of the industry, visitors, community and the environment.

The Ministry, along with the Ministry for the Environment in Northland, is working directly with tourism businesses to implement a sustainable tourism charter. The aim is to assist businesses to implement sustainable practices by better understanding and managing their environmental, economic, and socio-cultural impacts. However, there are areas where local government needs to step in. After all, you are probably New Zealand’s biggest tourism operator. You have serious responsibilities in your hands: planning and managing the resources tourism depends on, providing core infrastructure, and funding regional marketing and the Visitor Information Network.

With local authorities investing $29.5 million in tourism last year – the single largest area of direct economic development expenditure—your commitment to tourism as an essential part of New Zealand’s long-term future is clear. This money has been invested in funding RTOs, cultural tourism, tourism promotion and attraction, and visitor information centres.

A key focus for local tourism spending is RTO marketing activities. To perform this role well, RTOs require certainty of funding, support, and good governance from local authorities.

It is easy to forget, but visitors rely on the roads, carparking, lighting, water and sewerage, signage, parks, sports grounds, museums, and art galleries you provide as much as residents do.

All of you have a vital role in planning to meet the needs of the guests who come to enjoy what your communities offer, but it isn’t always easy to balance them with those of residents, industry, and the environment. I know you are working hard to find that balance.

One example is freedom camping, which only local authorities have the power to regulate. It’s up to you whether you choose a permissive or restrictive approach, taking into account impacts on the environment, your community, the tourism industry, and on the visitors themselves.

I do sometimes hear the complaint that tourism is ‘all cost and no benefit’. Some in local government advance the argument that visitors stop to use the toilet, empty the rubbish from their cars, visit a scenic spot at no charge, and move on.

But work undertaken last year by the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Economic Development, in consultation with LGNZ, found that currently, visitors are paying their way.

However, rapid growth in tourism can place pressures on these very same communities, particularly where rating bases are small. The investment needed to build water and sewerage infrastructure to meet the needs of visitors can be much higher per capita than in larger cities.

In order to ensure that tourism remains sustainable in the regions of New Zealand, Budget 2004 allocates $11 million over three years to assist small communities to fund the basic water and sewerage infrastructure necessary to maximise local benefits from tourism.

My Ministry is currently developing criteria and application procedures for this initiative. Officials will be seeking feedback from local authorities later in the year. I also strongly urge the tourism sector to actively participate in local authority planning processes. Working together, both local government and industry can focus on sustainability, which in turn leads to economic well-being. There are some outstanding examples of cooperation between the tourism sector and local authorities. Kaikoura is an excellent one: a small town that has responded innovatively to very rapid tourism growth.

Kaikoura District Council has firmly kept sustainability at the forefront of their minds. In 2002, Kaikoura was the first New Zealand community to benchmark against the global environmental accreditation system, Green Globe 21. This required buy-in from the community, the tourism industry and from all of Kaikoura’s businesses. But this is not a one-off initiative. Back in 1998, the Council formally adopted a Zero Waste policy, only the third New Zealand Council to do so.

Kaikoura has also launched the ‘Trees for Travellers’ scheme, a fantastic initiative using the latest GPS technology. Visitors can purchase a native tree for $20-$40, then track its progress via GPS co-ordinates and an individual number allocated to each tree. I applaud such innovative thinking and co-operation between local government, the tourism industry and visitors with the shared goal of a sustainable industry and environment.

Wellington city is another example of outstanding co-operation. We all remember the days when Wellington was seen as the public service capital, and little else. How that’s changed over the past 10 – 15 years!

Today, Wellington is known as a vibrant, exciting city, brimming with cultural and outdoor activities, places to eat and drink, and of course an excellent tour of Parliament Buildings. Wellington realised that the city’s most loyal supporters and advocates are those who live there, and the RTO works to encourage residents to bring friends and relatives to stay.

Active co-operation between the Council and RTO has achieved outstanding results, attracting and retaining major events such as the Sevens, getting the most out of Wellywood as the home town of The Lord of the Rings, and recently becoming the new venue for Wearable Arts.

There are many, many more examples, and I applaud all of you for your innovation and cooperation. I assure you that we, too, will continue to play our part at the central government level.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment as part of this panel. I look forward to a stimulating discussion.

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