Lonely Planet and Rough Guide author Doug Lansky jetted in for the Auckland Airport New Zealand Tourism Forum.
Celebrated travel author and intrepid traveller Doug Lansky was invited by Auckland Airport to attend the recent New Zealand Tourism Forum and had some words of wisdom to share.
Lansky visited New Zealand 20 years as a backpacker and now travels the world for a living but says the warm welcome and impressive tourism offering in Rotorua caught him off guard. That’s fine praise from a man who has visited more than 120 countries and author of 10 books including three for Lonely Planet and three for Rough Guides.
On the speaking circuit Lansky has spoken to a sold-out audience at National Geographic HQ, at the United Nations World’s Tourism Organisation where he introduces audiences to new insights and smart tourism concepts.
After his recent May 2019 visit he had some insights for New Zealand too.
“Protecting a popular destination is always a challenge. But the canopy tour ecology, thanks to a rodent removal effort, has actually improved in recent years and mountain biking in the nearby Redwoods Forest was impressively preserved,” says Lansky. “Attractions aside, the most impressive insight that gives me faith in New Zealand Tourism is that so many of the leaders and stakeholders I met aren’t just resting on the successes of the last 20 years. They are humbly self-critical and continuing to work to improve their offering. In some cases, they are looking well into the future and asking tough questions about what seems to be short-term gains. For example, the high-spending tour groups might seem like low-hanging fruit, but what’s going to be the effect of that in five or ten years? Might those tour groups make New Zealand less appealing for free independent travellers, change the nature of tourism in New Zealand with special infrastructure, or make New Zealand too dependent upon such groups? It’s hard to find the best solutions if you aren’t willing to ask those tough questions.”
The outdoors and ‘clean and green’ were something he expected, and he’s done his share of mountain biking around the world, but the well-maintained trails through the Redwoods still had him “awestruck”.
“My concern for this world-class experience is that there are not currently crowd controls in place. If it gets featured in new magazine articles or a major TV travel programme and thousands start showing up every day, then what? Overcrowding may not be an issue today, but think of this like the queuing ropes at an airport – if you haven’t put them up before the crowds arrive, you’re too late,” says Lansky. “By contrast, the canopy tour had set limits on every group heading into the forest. And visitors could only visit by group. So even if 20,000 people showed up, only a regulated number would get in. Even the popular Ogo operation is set up to only handle a limited number of guests at once.”
We know that tourism numbers are rising worldwide. With a first-rate tourism offering, a smart destination and its stakeholders doesn’t just let everyone in and hope for the best according to Lansky. No city can handle a 100 million visitors in a day. So how many can it hold and what will be the first points of pain?
“The stakeholders can do their part by regulating their number of visitors to make a good experience,” says Lansky. “Hiking trails would do well to think like a golf course and only allow small groups to depart every 10, 15 or 30 minutes. And entire destinations need to figure out what their bottlenecks are – and then help solve them. This could be overcrowded walking streets, lack of parking, too few public toilets, or crowds on hiking trails – only an independent assessment will tell.
“What New Zealand does really well is the product. The creative innovations you think up are genius. Bungy jumping could’ve happened anywhere, on any bridge in the world, but you pioneered that crazy idea way back in 1994, and it’s been firmly on bucket lists ever since. And same for the Ogo in Rotorua. Top points New Zealand, for your winning combination of product innovation, Kiwi ingenuity, and clean and green appeal.
“So, if we know your product is great we must seek to sustain it. The challenge before you is to give the experience longevity and, at the same time, protect quality of life for locals, maximise the visitor economy and protect your environment.”
Innovation doesn’t stop at product development; innovation includes communication and collaboration.
“My learnings from other international destinations show us that tourism is a team sport. It requires initiatives to bring people in, but it also requires dedicated teams to think long term for the sake of sustainable tourism and manage the people when they arrive – which they will, if you’re onto a good thing,” says Lansky.
“In other destinations, I’ve seen smart tourism approaches such as time-ticketed entry to famous landmarks or hot spots, in a bid to successfully manage crowds and protect the environment as an asset. By controlling the number of visitors moving through the attraction, you’re protecting the environment and ecosystems by assessing the load of visitors it can withstand, and not pushing it beyond.
“The Cinque Terre in Italy is an unexpected example of sustainable tourism management in motion. Just how did they handle being on every traveller’s bucket list? In 2016, the Cinque Terre management announced it would be imposing caps on the number of tourists allowed to access the historic town of five fishing villages. At the time it was provocative, but the destination had reached a point where something needed to be done to maintain the ecosystem and quaint nature of Cinque Terre for the long-term benefit of both locals and tourists alike. These days only 1.5 million people can access the destination each year, as opposed to 2.5 million previously. Saying ‘no’ to an extra million tourists a year is a brave step for a destination, but in my mind will future-proof the appeal for generations to come.”
And while New Zealand is touted as ‘clean and green’ Lansky is pleased he’ll be able to attest around the world that in his opinion, and from what he’s seen during his time in Rotorua, that yes, we are.
“My greatest hope is when I’m lucky enough to return, you’ll still be clean and green. Now that requires future-proofed thinking,” he says.
Doug Lansky was invited to New Zealand by Auckland Airport to speak to the tourism industry at the Auckland Airport New Zealand Tourism Forum held in Rotorua in May.