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Conservation estate bucks slowing visitor number trend

16 May 2019  By Bridget O'Connell | | @tourismticker

Increasing numbers of visitors continue to flock to New Zealand’s conservation estate, growing at more than double the pace of overall New Zealand visitor numbers, according to the Department of Conservation.

Releasing new data for 2018, the department said that the estimated growth rate for international visitors to national parks last year was 9%, which compares with a 4% growth rate in overseas visitor arrivals to New Zealand.

This growth was led by a number of locations that saw a huge leap in visitor numbers including Rakiura/Stewart Island’s Ulva Island where there was a 76% hike to 17,000 visit,  and Northland’s Tane Mahuta Walk which was up by 44% to 152,000 visits.

The South Island’s Aoraki Mt Cook National Park’s also saw annual visitor numbers exceed 1m for the first time last year.

Conservation minister, Eugenie Sage said: “Magnificent places such as Aoraki will always draw New Zealanders and international visitors in large numbers.

“With more people wanting to connect with this Tōpuni site, DOC has worked to make sure facilities are adequate, visitors have a safe, high-quality experience, and the outstanding natural and cultural values of the national park are protected.”

Since 2010, DOC has invested over $16.5m in visitor facilities within the national park including a new visitor centre, road improvements, tracks, and more toilets.

An estimated $122,000 was also spent to repair the popular Hooker Valley Track after extreme weather damage in March.

However, there was mixed picture nationally,  with a slowing of visitor growth reflected at “several key conservation areas”.

These included the Milford Sound which received 840,000 visits, and Franz Josef  with 759,000 visits, both delivering 3% growth. The popular Tongariro Alpine Crossing also saw slower growth, recording just a 1%  increase on the prior year with 142,500 visits.

Outside of targeted investment such as that seen at Aoraki, DOC said it continues to increase New Zealand’s conservation effort through targeted biodiversity work and ambitious collaborative projects including Predator Free 2050 and Te Manahuna Aoraki.

“The New Zealand-Aotearoa Tourism Strategy launched today provides for the Government to take a more active and coordinated approach to tourism to make sustainability a core value and mitigate the industry’s impacts,” Sage said.

“To protect the nature and maintain high-quality visitor experiences, DOC is focused on planning for future growth; sharing the stories of our heritage; and doing more effective compliance work.”

DOC said current numbers show that around 3.9m New Zealanders – roughly 80% of the population –  visit public conservation areas (from national parks to marine reserves) at least once a year, alongside around 1.8m international visitors.

Sage added: “It’s not just the number of visitors but the rapid rate of growth in those numbers that has put pressure on some of New Zealand’s most iconic places.

“International visitor arrivals to New Zealand have grown by 43 percent in the last five years. Visits to Otago’s Blue Pools are estimated to have risen from 3,400 to 102,000 in just three years. Visits to Ben Lomond Track have just about doubled in that time.

“This year, while visitor numbers are still on the increase, there has been a general slowing of international visitor growth.”

“With these increased visitor numbers, a major part of the Government’s proactive approach to managing tourism is to encourage visitors to enjoy and respect New Zealand,” says Eugenie Sage.

“DOC’s ‘Visit the Kiwi way’ campaign highlighted the need to have as little impact as possible on wild spaces and natural areas. The campaign reached over 3.4 million cumulative screens and its simple, inclusive approach was well-received by the public.”

“The soon-to-be implemented International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy will help ensure tourism contributes to protecting and restoring nature which we all depend on,” Sage concluded.


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