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Re-thinking tourism: Turning communities into ambassadors

16 Sep 2020  By Shannon Williams | | @tourismticker

The reimagining of New Zealand’s tourism industry is an opportunity to better cultivate communities as ambassadors of the sector, according to Victoria University of Wellington’s professor of tourism management, Karen Smith.

Speaking on the university’s Re-thinking Tourism webinar, Smith said the time was now to turn communities into supporters, rather than critics, of tourism.

Karen Smith

“While many of our communities support tourism, we can’t take this for granted,” she said.

“We have a real opportunity to think more mindfully about how we can positively engage our communities and harness their support, and really nurture them as tourist ambassadors who can recognise the opportunities that tourism can bring.”

Smith said a person’s job and income were often a key part of their identity, and the loss of it not only had an impact on their family, but also the community in which they lived, especially in regional areas heavily dependent on tourism.

“Those businesses and individuals aren’t just working and taking part in tourism, they are active participants in their communities.”

She said it was important to put community sustainability alongside economic, environmental and visitor commitments.

“Alongside the sustainability commitment comes industry goals, so, for example, are New Zealanders happy with the level of tourism activity and do they support growth, are tourism businesses desirable and responsible employers, and are leaders engaging and supporting vibrant communities.”

Smith said the current domestic focus was key to getting communities behind the visitor economy.

“While we’ve seen visitors in leading tourism destinations such a Queenstown, there’s also been a push for New Zealanders to discover new places and experience beyond their usual school holiday hotspots,” she said.

“This will hopefully give New Zealanders a deeper insight into the role that tourism plays in our communities and help support the industry’s social licence to operate.

“We have long recognised the importance of word of mouth in generating new and repeat visits, and as New Zealanders freshly discover their own backyard, we need to deliver those outstanding visitor experiences so Kiwis become ambassadors for what New Zealand has to offer – not just to share with their neighbours at home, but also longer-term to international visitors once borders start to reopen.”

University of South Australia’s Dr Freya Higgins-Desbiolles said tourism was “out of balance” and being emphasised at the expense of locals.

“There are many stories coming out of the places experiencing overtourism, about communities having grave problems with the imposition of tourism upon them,” she said.

But tourism mattered and was worth struggling for.

“While we’re in Covid we know this because we have seen borders shut and tourism, hospitality, events and arts and cultural industries shut down, and what’s it’s done is shown us is just how reliant we are on these industries for our jobs, economic growth and incomes,” Higgins-Desbiolles said.

“What I’m calling socialising tourism is an effort to make tourism responsive and answerable to the society in which it occurs. This is based upon putting tourism in its proper place – which is at the service of the local community.”


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