Lean, green tourism machine

By: Daniel Hutchinson

Daniel Hutchinson
From The Hutch

 Something strange happened the other day – I met a fresh foreigner.

In my spare time I run a small lawn mowing and landscaping business, and I was asked by a third party to provide an estimate to tidy up the yard at the man’s new apartment.

Mrs Hutch and I were just returning from the supermarket, so we decided to pop by immediately.

It wasn’t until we were standing on the doorstep in our tidy town clothes that I realised we looked like one of those friendly couples who hand out information about the afterlife.

His first words are: “No English, no English”. I’ve tried the same line myself with little success, but we already knew that he’d just arrived from New Caledonia and only spoke French, so were not deterred.

The introduction would have been smoother if I’d turned up in a dusty ute wearing steel-capped boots and a hi-vis vest.

As it turns out it didn’t matter – I simply bent down, plucked out a weed and pointed at it.

I’m not sure if I’m skilled in the art of improvised communication, or he is well-used to interpreting weird gestures, but it worked.

Pockets full of limes

Before long we were drawing shapely curves around shrubs with our hands, making chopping motions, chainsaw noises and throat-slitting gestures about unwanted landscape features.

We left with our pockets stuffed full of limes from an unruly tree, 10 fingers held up and the word Saturday hanging hopefully in the air. I would have preferred to do the job at 11am but I didn’t have that many fingers.

What I found most exciting about this encounter was that I had met someone who had just arrived from another country. That almost never happens these days, but we all need to brush up on our French, Spanish and Mandarin.

The Government announced this week that all border restrictions will end two months earlier than expected, on August 1, opening the way for business-as-usual when it comes to tourism.

The tourism plan

I believe we are not at all prepared for people from other places, having enjoyed only the company of ourselves for so long. Even those who opted to stay for the duration of the pandemic have been here so long they are basically Kiwis.

There was a lot of talk about a tourism industry ‘re-set’ when our borders closed; and that talk is due to be manifested in the form of a Tourism Industry Transformation Plan. The first draft is due in the next few weeks.

Basically, this is a high-brow way of saying: ‘We don’t need stupid tourists anyway’. It’s the sort of thing you say when you lose something. Like the ‘ex’ who finds a new lover with more money, an electric car and more exciting hobbies.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment describes it in almost the same way, only with fancier words.

“The Tourism ITP will have an overarching objective of establishing a regenerative model of tourism. “Regenerative tourism is about giving back more to people and places than it takes – meaning a tourism sector that adds more than only economic value. It actively enriches our communities and helps protect and restore our environment.”

The same attractions

That sounds brilliant but I can’t help feeling that people will come to New Zealand for all the same reasons they used to come here. Budget tourists have been widely frowned upon for decades now, mainly because they are suspected of pooping behind bushes and getting in the way of the view.

However, hindsight has shown us that young adventurers are more than just poops and giggles; they have been propping up our seasonal industries too.

The agriculture and hospitality industries rely on these visitors for labour, not to mention the bungy, jet boating, white water rafting and other adventure activities that they spend their hard-earned dollars on.

Many exporters and importers rely on passenger flights coming in and out of the country for freight. Kiwi travellers rely on the same thing for cheap airfares to their own chosen destinations. Fewer travellers means fewer flights and more expensive fares.

It’s been wonderful having our special places to ourselves for a few years, but I miss all those interesting people; and I’m looking forward to using my weird sign language to get by in their countries too.

daniel@thesun.co.nz