After their flight was delayed leaving New Zealand, 53 elderly American tourists had to be put up in a Maori house because Auckland’s hotels were full.
Before being shown their sleeping arrangements, the marooned Americans were given biscuits and a cup of coffee and were shown a warm welcome.
New Zealand received 3.5 million arrivals last year and the straining infrastructure is barely able to accommodate them. The lack of capacity is harming the country’s income. Walks to plateaus and valleys are crowded, and cities offering different kind of adventure activities like jet boating and bungy jumping are finding their systems overloaded.
“If we don’t fix these things and look to the long term, we’ll be putting a cap on our own growth,” said CEO of Ngai Tahu Tourism, Quinton Hall.
“We’ve got a natural cap on our peak period right now because we just don’t have the accommodation in New Zealand. Even if they wanted to come, they couldn’t find anywhere to sleep.”
No Room at the Inn
Tourist numbers have grown 12% over the last year and forecasts show it will reach 4.5 million by 2022. Government research from last year showed that the number of hotel rooms will decrease with 4500 by 2025.
For February 2017, Auckland’s hotel occupancy was 94% and year round the city averages around 86%, which is very, very full.
“If immediate solutions aren’t found, it is unlikely we will continue to grow at current levels,” said Dean Humphries, Director of hotels at Colliers International. “If we are going to continue to see more tourists come into the country, where do they go?”
Ngai Tahu offers a series of activities including jet-boating, canoeing and horseback trail rides in Glenorchy, close to Queenstown. The company has to carry chemical toilets in peak season as the water facilities are not sufficient.
Similar issues can be seen at Franz Josef glacier, where the huge number of tourists using the infrastructure caused the sewerage system’s destruction. Finding funds to rebuild the infrastructure is a burning issue, sparking public debate.
Regional councils estimate that New Zealand’s tourism infrastructure budget is NZ$1.4 billion, however the government disputes this and and says that the real figure is more like NZ$17.5 million. The association representing tourism operators needs and deserves more, adding that tourists contribute NZ$1.15 billion annually in sales taxes alone.
One way to fund improvements in infrastructure would be to set an entrance fee to all national parks, something which is considered the norm in many other countries.
“We provide all sorts of things free of entry, but not free of costs,” said David Simmons, Professor of Tourism at Christchurch’s Lincoln University. “We need an informed discussion about user pays.”
Private investors such as Auckland International Airport Ltd and Tainui Group Holdings will be the ones to solve the accommodation shortage. They are building a 5-star hotel with 250 hotel rooms which is due to open in 2019.
And as for the group of elderly people, they were very happy to experience such an amazing culture while being in NZ.
“They said they’d traveled around New Zealand, and this was the first real cultural experience they’d had,” Nuku said. “They had their phones and iPads out, taking selfies. We were just happy to be of assistance.”