NZ's adventure-tourism industry perceived as safe

New Zealand's reputation as a safe adventure-tourism destination remains untarnished, despite accidents involving death and injury, an industry advocate says.

Evan Freshwater, of the Tourism Industry Association (TIA), was in Dunedin yesterday helping operators prepare for compulsory safety audits.

He said it was too early to know whether the recent helicopter crash, in which 11 tourists were rescued from the Tyndall Glacier near Queenstown, would have an impact on the industry.

But Mr Freshwater said New Zealand was known worldwide as having a well-managed and regulated adventure tourism industry.

''Internationally, New Zealand is still very highly regarded as a safe tourism destination. Everything we're doing is to make sure New Zealand maintains that position,'' he said.

Otago, particularly Queenstown, had many ''mature'' operators who had become leaders in safety standards and risk management, he said.

He also held a workshop in Queenstown on Thursday.

''Queenstown has some very old adventure businesses, they've had decades of managing safety and have what we would call a mature safety culture. Safety is led from the top and there are some prime examples in Queenstown of operators who have been doing it for such a long time, and doing it well, that they can't help but have a good operation.''

He said it was in all operators' interest to share safety knowledge and help each other achieve and maintain the highest standards, which in part was what the workshops were for.

''New Zealand's reputation can suffer because of the person that has the least experience.''

Under new legislation adventure tourism operators had to pass independent safety audits by November next year, in order to be registered by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Mr Freshwater said many of the 25 Queenstown and 17 Dunedin operators at the workshops already had effective safety management systems in place, but they needed help with ''the paperwork'' in order to pass audits.

Some did not know whether they fell under the new regulations, or

were subject to guidelines set by the Civil Aviation Authority or Maritime New Zealand.

''Having a safety management system and being audited has always been a very important part of running a well managed system. This is just formalising that process and making it clear to operators what they need to do to pass the audit.''

The cost of being audited and registered would depend on the complexity of each operation and how prepared operators were, he said.

''It looks to be around $3000 to undertake a two-day audit, which will last about three years, but there will be a significant difference between operators.''

Those who failed to complete an audit within the required time but continued to provide adventure activities would be committing an offence under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, the penalty for which was a fine of up to $250,000.

The workshops, which were closed to the public, were held in 13 locations nationally and were organised in conjunction with Outdoors New Zealand and an independent auditor.

''The key message to operators is they have 12 months from today to become audited,'' Mr Freshwater said.

- rosie.manins@odt.co.nz

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