Concern at visitors' 'exploitation'

Industry leaders Lake Wanaka Tourism are concerned the treatment of the lakeside town over the New Year period "bordered on exploitation", and have proposed a post-summer debriefing to local policymakers, reports the Otago Daily Times (6 Feb 2018).

Chairman Mark Morrison raised the idea of a debriefing at last Thursday’s Wanaka Community Board meeting, after he had noticed widespread concern at the disarray the town found itself in over the holiday period.

He said Lake Wanaka Tourism had recently moved from a come-one come-all strategy to a more sustainable model of tourism, and believed what was seen during the holiday season was the complete opposite.

"What I saw over the New Year period was not a particularly sustainable kind of tourism. I would have thought it bordered on exploitation, the opposite of sustainability," he said.

Mr Morrison said the organisation had followed Tourism Industry Aotearoa’s newly-created tourism sustainability commitment, launched on November 14 last year.

It was established to help combat the challenges of managing and sustaining growth within the industry.

The commitment stressed the importance of combining financial success and environmental protection, as well as enhancing the support of local communities.

Glaring issues had arisen in Wanaka over the last couple of summers as thousands of tourists swamped the town.

Many Wanaka locals became outraged around New Year as visitors ignored "no parking" signs and moved large rocks placed along the foreshore car park by the council to stop people parking on the grass.

The resulting damage to the grass had resulted in Wanaka taxpayers footing a $3000 bill to repair the area.

Hundreds of drunken youths flooded the streets on New Year’s Eve — hardly a new phenomenon, but one that has also sparked discussion among Wanaka policymakers.

Neither event was as bad as when up to 500 people had to be rescued from Ruby Island by the harbourmaster at the end of 2016, after an alcohol-fuelled party got out of control.

Community board chairwoman Rachel Brown said while there was always going to be a "little bit of chaos", feedback had indicated the town had reached a "new level" in that regard.

At the board meeting, Mr Morrison believed the community had to take charge before some of these issues got out of hand.

"Is this the town that we want? If it’s not, what are we going to do about it and what do we need to change? We have control, it’s our town, we live here. We’ve been here for a long time and we can choose that direction that we want to. I’d like to see that happen towards the end of summer, where we get together and see what we can do."

Ms Brown welcomed the idea of a debriefing and said several things needed to be worked on.

"We’re bursting. We can’t provide the amount of facilities required for people visiting for a couple of weeks. We need to do more active management [during the holiday period]."

Queenstown Lakes District deputy mayor Calum McLeod agreed that simply increasing the facilities was not a viable option.

"It is a specific period where the town quadruples in size. We had 2200 boats on the lake on January 2. You can’t build facilities for that. It’s about thinking outside the square."

Cr Quentin Smith believed it was an issue of respect.

"Clearly, it’s a nationwide issue, not just something that our district faces. For me it’s an issue of respect and continuing to send that message of ‘respect our home’."

The debriefing is yet to be confirmed but is likely to include the council, community board, police, Department of Conservation, other local community groups, as well as Lake Wanaka Tourism.

Council community services general manager Thunes Cloete said the council  was already planning a post-holiday debriefing in the coming weeks to discuss issues that occurred within the district.

"We have to learn from what has happened and do better next time," he said.