Hon Stuart Nash

Editorial

Being Minister of Tourism is no easy gig

November 23 2020 by Paul Taylor

Being Minister of Tourism is no easy gig

You’ve got to feel for new Tourism Minister Stuart Nash.

He announces his plan to ban camper vans that are not self-contained, to stop backpackers taking a “shit in our waterways,” (yep, direct quote) and generally having more impact than the value they provide to the economy. Surely everyone can agree on that, easy win, no? Cut to a few hours later, and he’s standing in front of a pack of journalists in Queenstown being asked whether he’s ever defecated at the side of the road, and does he know the value of backpackers to the economy, and haven’t we all been here before? His answer, for the record, was ‘no’, he always goes before he leaves the house.

It’s not going to be an easy gig, this one. The whole freedom camping debate is something of a distraction really. The real question is how does Nash, how does Queenstown and New Zealand, find the balance between the number of tourists needed to sustain viable businesses and the impact of those numbers on communities and the environment? At the Tourism Industry Aotearoa Conference on Tuesday, the Minister was clear: “There is no going back to tourism circa 2019.” He reiterated that in Queenstown, saying once the borders reopen tourism must be that magical word, ‘sustainable’.

So, how do we achieve that? Fewer tourists paying much more appears to be the answer, with price being the mechanism to limit numbers. It’s no surprise then, that Nash appeared very interested in Jim Boult’s visitor levy idea. Asked whether he had any thoughts on the visitor levy, he said “lots of thoughts”, which was deliberately far too ambiguous to deliver the headline ‘Nash backs Boult’s bed tax’, but I swear I saw a twinkle in his eye. Some of the funding for the infrastructure work needed locally has been provided by shovel-ready grants from Central Government and the like, so it will be a big tick for Jim if he eventually gets the visitor levy over the line too.  

It’s positive Nash headed straight for Queenstown after the conference and just two-and-a-half weeks after being appointed. He’d have been here a week earlier too, had it not been for the floods in his constituency of Napier. He’s perhaps learned from the mistakes of his predecessor, given the nickname Claude Rains (the invisible man) by some in the town. Nash has a good track record, including crucially as Minister of Small Business, and appears open, energetic and ready to go into bat for the industry and the town. He’s also Minister for Economic and Regional Development, and said he’d discuss solutions to Queenstown’s workforce problems with the Ministers for Immigration and Finance.

All in all, a good start, but holding the line on sustainability is going to be difficult once the borders reopen and the tills start ringing.

Paul Taylor
paul@qmg.co.nz

- Paul Taylor
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