OPINION: Moving us towards a regenerative tourism future

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Covid-19 has thrown us into a new world of closed borders, bubbles and health and safety
protocols over this past year, and while we’ve all been ‘‘re-imagining’’, ‘‘pivoting’’ and crystal ball-polishing to the best of our ability, the ride will be rocky for some time yet.

But this uncertainty and global lull in tourism has also created an opportunity to rethink our purpose, how we operate and how we measure success, so we can begin making change before international demand returns.

While this may seem counter-intuitive right now, particularly with the recent pause to quarantine-free travel, our community as a whole has a chance to shape tourism in a way that fits more cohesively with our place and our people.

A tourism industry which fosters reciprocal benefits to the community, the visitor, and the environment.

Pre-Covid, tourism commentary often included pressures on our environment and community as well as on local infrastructure, facilities, and roads.

Post-lockdown, the conversation has shifted to how this core industry should look if, and when, international travel returns in scale.

So, here’s the big question we need your help with:

How can the visitor economy be in the service of, and adding value to the district, its living ecosystems and its communities in a way that also delivers appropriate financial benefits and a thriving economy?

The visitor economy is critical to our region, so what we do matters, as the residents,  business owners and workers who make up this community.

For some time, Destination Queenstown (DQ) and Lake Wanaka Tourism (LWT) have been signalling our intention to work on a regenerative approach to tourism, and we’re now kicking off the project.

Given the Covid-impacted environment, the government has made funding available to regional tourism organisations around New Zealand to start moving the industry in a regenerative direction and create future resilience.

So what is regenerative?

It’s a shift in mindset and more than sustainability, which is focused on minimising tourism impacts, or doing no harm.

‘Regenerative’ refers to a visitor industry that creates value in a way that ultimately makes our home a better place.

It’s also good business practice.

As travellers ourselves, we know that no one wants to go to a place if it’s degraded and a poor-quality experience.

This is a new era of thinking to evolve and future-proof tourism, so it’s important we take a collaborative, district-wide approach to guiding decision-making and planning (also noting work is underway on creating economic diversification across the district).

To that end, DQ and LWT have formed a partnership with the Queenstown Lakes District Council.

Over the next six months we will work with the community, visitor industry and stakeholders to explore, understand and address that big question and co-design a roadmap for regenerative tourism by 2030.

We will be seeking a broad range of views to ensure that the plan reflects our district’s needs and desires.

A regenerative tourism model will enable communities, nature and life to flourish, help us protect and enhance local taonga (treasures), link strongly to the district’s values, create pride in its strength of conviction and purpose, and enable a thriving future.

To be clear, though, this isn’t going to happen overnight — systemic change takes time.

This is a multi-year approach and the transition will be developed and phased as part of the project, so we’ll need to balance this through our business planning and campaigns.

We also need to build industry and community capability, providing tools to help people be part of the change, and creating a common understanding and culture of learning and sharing.

Sustainability firm Proxima and global destination management planning experts Destination Think! are working closely with us and we’ve formed an independent industry leaders’ advisory group to guide the process.

Data and insights from a range of sources, including tourism reports, regulatory frameworks and local planning documents will also be factored in.

There are no pre-determined outcomes — this is about co-designing our tourism future together, and we need your input.

Regardless of whether you’re a small or big business, a student, a migrant worker, or have lived in the district for a long time, we want to hear from all of you.

Some of you are participating in stakeholder interviews and design forums, but the key time for everyone to get involved is through our community events, which started last week.

There will also be a community-wide survey in September, and opportunities to provide feedback on the draft plan in November.

I know many of us in the community are doing it tough and that local businesses are at different stages of survival, stabilisation and recovery.

It’s challenging to be thinking long-term at a time like this.

But we also need to plan ahead to re pond to a changed market and a viable tourism future.

The big opportunity I see ahead is to forge our own path.

With the strong history and spirit of tourism innovation within the district, we’ve done it before and I know we can do it again.

To find out more, please visit regenerativetourism.co.nz

Ann Lockhart’s Destination Queenstown’s interim chief executive

ed@scene.co.nz