New Zealand, let’s stop being a cheap date
Travellers are enamoured with us. Last year, 3.5 million visitors arrived in New Zealand to check us out. This is equivalent to 75 percent of New Zealand’s total population. Unfortunately, we’re putting ourselves out there as a pretty cheap date.
It’s free to walk our national walks. It’s free to swim in our rivers and climb our mountains. Getting around is a breeze, just drive, and enjoy the free highways. If a visitor falls on the mountain and injures themselves, we’ll cover the cost to fix them right up, comprehensively. It is time for New Zealand to rethink how cheap we are. Deep down, nobody respects a cheap date.
It is time for us to start charging visitors for the privilege of enjoying what New Zealanders are already collectively paying to provide. We need to lose the Kiwi “cultural cringe” around asking for money. After all, around the world it is normal to employ differential pricing for local amenities: where visitors are charged differently to locals.
Some of you won’t agree with me. The Federated Mountain Clubs vice-president Jan Finlayson is on record saying that her 20,000-member organisation was firmly against the idea saying “[i]t’s almost certainly going to be inefficient, very difficult and intrusive to [New Zealand’s] welcoming culture.” In fact, it’s just the opposite, and in my experience overseas, it’s easy to overcome many of the difficulties or inefficiencies if we are prepared to open our minds and learn from how other nations do it.
For many tourists, the fact that we don’t have differential pricing seems odd or even simple minded. China makes extensive use of road tolls and as such most Chinese people (surprisingly one might think for a communist country) expect to pay a toll when driving on a highway. They also expect to pay entry fees when they visit a tourist site of national significance. They also expect visitors to China to pay more than locals to see these sights.
Similarly, Americans expect to pay an entry fee to go to Yellowstone Park. They also have price differentiation making it free for those in active military service or for people with disabilities. There are also a set number of free days so no-one can say that they are fully excluded on price alone. In Thailand visitors pay an entry fee to go into the Grand Palace, while locals can come and go as they please. This all seems fair and reasonable.
It’s possible that we worry that once a charge is put in place for some, the government will use this mechanism to start charging us. The truth is, we’re all already paying for all of this through our tax, each one of us subsidising the holidays of millions of tourists every year, and DoC is still struggling to keep up.
We can make a change by charging tourists what we’re worth, or we can continue to shoulder the costs ourselves, and be left, without even a photo to remember them by.