PAULA BENNETT: Funding for the future of regional tourism

16/05/2017

Thanks to Hon. Paula Bennett, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, for writing her first blog for RadioLIVE!

Photo credit: Port Hills picture above thanks to Julian Apse. 

Funding for the future of regional tourism

New Zealand’s natural beauty makes our small country towns premium destinations for domestic and international visitors. They flock to places like Tekapo and Ruapehu, sustaining 188,000 tourism jobs and boosting regional economies by millions of dollars every year. They lap up our world-famous hospitality, heading home and telling every travel writer and blogger they meet.

They come in their millions, and more are going to come. Tourism forecasts released last week estimate almost five million international visitors annually by 2023 who will spend almost 50 percent more than they do now – that’s a whopping $29 billion into New Zealand’s economy.

We welcome our guests with open arms and open hearts, but also with open eyes as to some of the challenges such growth brings. Our smallest councils and regions are starting to feel the pressure of increased visitor numbers on our public tourism infrastructure like car parks, toilets and public camping areas.

Solutions to this pressure take time, consultation, research and analysis to work through. We needed to know where are the pressure points? What role should central government play in an area normally the responsibility of local councils? What infrastructure is actually needed?

Our initial $12 million Mid-sized Facilities Fund implemented last year gave us a test case to work through some of these questions and get us in a position to announce a $178 million tourism infrastructure package as part of Budget 2017.

Through this investment the Government will establish a $102 million Tourism Infrastructure Fund and the DOC Estate will get a $76 million boost for tourism facilities and new great walks.

The Infrastructure Fund will allow smaller councils with high visitor numbers to apply for co-funding for things like public toilets and carparks, freedom camping facilities and rubbish disposal systems. They might not be the most glamorous of projects but they are key to relieving pressure our small towns.

Now that this increased funding is available, we will work with councils to identify the projects we need and where, apply for the funding and just get building. I’ve said many times my focus is on what projects need to be funded, not how we should raise the money. It’s why discussions around complicated levies and taxes are less important than actually getting the infrastructure identified and built.

We have also made it clear that we will continue to consider projects and regions that might fall outside the fund’s criteria, like visitor information centres and signage, on a case-by-case basis.

To put into perspective how effective co-funding like this can be, an initial $3 million round funded 14 facilities around the country, including public toilets in Tekapo and trash compactors around the Coromandel. If $3 million can fund 14 projects, then imagine what $100 million can do. 

We need to make sure our reputation for being friendly and welcoming to our overseas guests continues. The new infrastructure means we can look after them, but it doesn’t ensure we’ll take care of them. New Zealand is famous for our hospitality, so the last thing we want is the rest of the world to start thinking they are not welcome here.

With $14.5 billion in exports and 188,000 jobs, tourism is overwhelmingly positive for New Zealand and for our regions. It’s an industry to be celebrated. Visitors are the lifeblood of many of our communities, they eat in our cafes, drink in our bars, shop in our stores and walk with our guides. Let’s make sure we keep it that way.