Management of the environmental effects associated with the tourism sector

Report summaryTourism photo.

Tourism is critical to New Zealand's economy and depends to a large extent on environmental qualities. This report highlights the wide range of environmental effects and management problems associated with the industry and makes key recommendations for achieving sustainable tourism.


Commissioner's preface

The tourism sector is complex, as are many ecological systems. It is seldom possible to improve the management of complex systems, business or ecological, by focusing only on component parts. Really good information is needed on both the parts and the whole.

The environmental resources available to the industry are potentially rich but the industry is woefully short of information by which to craft a safe, profitable and sustainable passage into the future. The lack of adequate information is a major strategic risk for the tourism sector.

New Zealand is very well placed to focus on marketing quality experiences, and our environmental uniqueness, in ways that will ensure that the cost of travelling to New Zealand is of lesser importance to tourists in their selection of destination. Perhaps New Zealand should aim to position itself as a global environmental oasis: Aotearoa, an ark of ancient natural treasures, and thus be seen as a boutique tourism destination.


Executive summary

Tourism is a striking example of a sector where integration between economic, environmental and social goals is required to fully contribute to New Zealand's wellbeing.

There is a wide range of environmental effects associated with the tourism sector, some of which have the potential to seriously damage both the environment and the industry. There are systematic problems that hinder the achievement of sustainable tourism, and the government system for managing tourism and its environmental effects is fragmented.

The environmental qualities underpinning tourism are at risk in some areas and visitor pressure on some icon attractions cannot be sustained even in the medium term.

Three principal adverse environmental effects associated with tourism were identified:

  • loss of quality of some relatively unspoilt parts of New Zealand's natural environment
  • loss of amenity values from incremental development, which can also affect communities and lifestyles, especially in places where the proportion of visitors to residents is high
  • pressure on infrastructure resulting in significant costs to local communities. 

Findings & recommendations

To the Minister of Tourism

Facilitate the development of a strategy for sustainable tourism for New Zealand, in partnership with all interested parties. The development of the strategy should be in accordance with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, and provide for the practical expression of kaitiakitanga by iwi and hapū.

Facilitate further research into environmental effects associated with the tourism sector, in particular:

  • environmental indicators for tourism effects
  • domestic and international travel and activity patterns
  • the limits of ecological systems on which tourism depends.

Provide for compulsory membership of an industry organisation with powers to impose minimum standards or codes of practice.

To the New Zealand Tourism Industry Association

Continue the development of industry standards, codes of practice and branding mechanisms for the tourism industry.

To the Minister for the Environment

Develop methodologies to help environmental managers to assess and manage cumulative effects on the environment.