New Zealand's natural environment is our most valuable asset for attracting visitors and once they have been, it is one of the things they rate most highly. Our beautiful landscapes and scenery is the main association international visitors have of New Zealand (80% saying it is), closely followed by our clean and unpolluted environment (76% association)*.
Thinking ahead a few years, it's also fair to estimate that the idea of visiting a pristine and beautiful country will be more, rather than less, important as an 'attractor' for international travellers.
As you'll know, a key strategy of Tourism 2025 is to drive value through delivering an outstanding visitor experience.
Right now, perceptions visitors have of the way we sustainably manage our environment are generally positive, but there have been exceptions that haven't been as good. While tourism is just one industry, we can lead by example. It's our businesses that have the most regular contact with overseas visitors and will therefore, have a big influence on how visitors form their views on how sustainably we're living, and by implication, protecting our environment.
To this end, Tourism New Zealand, supported by the AA, TIA and MBIE, has commissioned an investigation into the area of global sustainable tourism, appointing TRC Tourism and Sustainable Travel International to assist us. The big question for us is to determine if there is a gap between what we're doing now as an industry and what visitors' current and future expectations might be. And; if there's a gap, what should we do now to ensure we close it to protect our global competitiveness in outer years of the plan.
We're currently in the discovery phase working to better understand the visitor benefits and industry expectations associated with sustainability for the New Zealand tourism industry. Work to assess and understand international trends and perceptions is also in-scope.
There's no doubt in our mind that the industry has an ongoing and substantial role to play in contributing to New Zealand's reputation for the care of our beautiful environment and the wider impacts of us operating our businesses.
Identifying the right action to take in this area ought to have a marked contribution to the Tourism 2025 'drive value through outstanding visitor experience', reinforcing the most important reason why visitors choose New Zealand over other destinations - a highly appealing and well cared for environment.
I look forward to sharing the findings with you following the project's completion in early 2015.
*TNS Active Considerer Monitor, Q3 FY14
First published in Tourism Business, November 2014