Caution urged over tourist van ban

Southern mayors have sounded a note of caution, and in some cases outright opposition, to a plan to ban the hiring out of vans that are not self-contained to tourists.

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash this week instructed officials at the Ministry of Business Innovation and Enterprise to start drafting legislation to that effect, as he pushed his view the tourism industry should sell itself as a destination for the wealthy when borders reopened.

Too often, ratepayers and taxpayers had pick up the bill of the impact of tourism on infrastructure, the environment and the full cost of tourism needed to be priced into the visitor experience, he said.

The country would "unashamedly" target the wealthy.

Mr Nash met Queenstown Mayor Jim Boult and tourism business owners in the resort yesterday.

He said he believed New Zealanders undervalued what was on offer here and wanted taxpayer-funded marketing campaigns to target "ultra-premium" tourists.

He welcomed self-contained rental camper vans but "defecating on the side of our roads and in our waterways is not who we are as a nation".

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said while the resort tended to target high-end visitors anyway, it should "not ignore the backpackers".

"Today’s backpacker can come back as tomorrow’s high-end tourist."

He expected international air travel to be more expensive post-Covid, "so maybe we’ll get that nirvana we’ve always wanted".

Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins was outright opposed to targeting wealthy visitors.

It was not the right way to address the environmental impacts of tourism, he said.

"Let’s talk about that rather than pretending that chasing fatter wallets will solve it for us."

He believed the question that needed to be asked was what tourism would look like in a zero carbon environment, and how support for that transition could be offered to industry and the communities heavily reliant on it.

"We are in the middle of a climate crisis and the minister’s sustainability strategy is literally ‘more private jets, no Jucy vans’," he said.

"When communities were given the choice to ban freedom camping, or to welcome and manage it, I am proud that Dunedin chose the latter."

Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan was more open to the idea and said he would welcome legislation defining what "self-contained" actually meant, though even with that he was sceptical if a ban would result in change.

Despite bylaws being put in place to address the issues, specifically tourists defecating in sensitive and high-use areas, the district continued to be challenged by the issues.

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan thought a ban would be a blunt tool that could cause as many problems as it fixed.

Banning the vans would run a risk of making travel the privilege of the wealthy, he said.

"The small proportion of people who are irresponsible are going to have an excess impact on everybody, and particularly those who can’t afford to hire or buy a flash camper."

Kiwibike Tours owner Robin McCarthy, of Twizel, said he feared for the future of tourism workers if the minister chose to target only high-end tourism.

"Small to medium operators can’t last the distance - there is no further funding being mentioned for them, and therefore, they will be gone.

"I don’t think it is a nice way to treat them. I feel as though we have been thrown under a bus."

Southland Mayor Gary Tong said he would support the ban for environmental reasons.

"To ban [the vans] would be a good call.

It would afford some control and take away some of the "angst" Southland communities felt when they saw vans that were not self-contained arrive in town, he said.


Sadly they have pooed in our nest too often and it has to stop. Motor camps- please have low rates and they will stay with you.

If a camper van has a proper self-contained toilet that can store several days' waste until being emptied at waste stations ... then freedom camping is fine. But looking at the hordes of dilapidated freedom camping vans - it's hard to imagine more than a small minority have proper toilet facilities that can store several days of waste pleasantly or away from the food/"kitchen" cubbyhole. Likewise, the tens of thousands of freedom campers who are washing with shampoo and soap and dishwashing liquid and laundry powder in our waterways every day is causing damage to aquatic life.

Let's make freedom camper rentals being used by international tourists for long haul travel only be sold or hired and legal with PROPER self contained toilet and sink.

And let's increase the tourist levy at the border e.g. $100 or $200 per visitor at the border. This is chicken feed and will not stop people visiting and won't cause resentment if they know it all goes directly to infrastructure to assist tourist facilities such as waste stations in smaller towns and preserve the environment. People are flying around the world. NZ$100-$200 *won't* stop anyone coming for their dream hol.