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Value vs Volume | A Call to Ban Freedom CampingGuest post by Jennifer Branje, CEO,

Tourism is now New Zealand’s greatest earner, but are we selling ourselves short?

Value vs Volume | A Call to Ban Freedom Camping - 1

‘Freedom Camping’ has been re labelled ‘Responsible Camping’. It’s an effort to encourage respectful visitor behaviour and ease a growing hostility towards travellers who sully our fine country while holidaying on the cheap. The problem is, it’s not cheap, well not for New Zealander’s anyway. We’re left with the ‘clean up’.
Before you ‘shoot the messenger’, please know that I have been ‘freedom camping’ for the past six months throughout the South Island. In researching this article, I have lived among those who come here, buy a cheap people mover, van or station wagon and proceed to use our country as a temporary home. I’ve watched them remove their porta potties to make more room for luggage while still displaying ‘self-containment’ stickers. I have picked up their rubbish, buried their crap and been abused for calling out travellers who proceed to hack at our native trees to gather firewood so they can cook their 2 minute noodles. I've walked into public rest rooms to see women, naked with one foot on the basin, washing their vagina's where our children are expected to wash their hands after toileting.  I’ve been packed into designated ‘free camping’ areas like a proverbial sardine and witnessed total disrespect for our country, our people and our culture and an unconceivable sense of entitlement that has become the ‘norm’.  I’ve also visited beautiful camp grounds with excellent facilities that are hardly occupied. Why buy the milk when you can get the cow for free?
While growth in tourism offers New Zealand great earning potential, we need to encourage value, not volume. Our population has blown out to almost 5 million people (2018) and our infrastructure is struggling to cope with our own waste. Our rivers are becoming increasingly polluted with wastewater and effluent, yet we continue to overburden New Zealand with more than 3.5 million visitors annually. The new Tourism Infrastructure Fund provides $25 million each year “to develop tourism-related infrastructure that supports regions facing pressure from tourism growth”. Admittedly, more public toilets & campervan dump stations are required, but using this fund to further develop free camping areas does nothing to support the investments made by local tourism businesses.
We are selling ourselves short. We ask travellers to respect our country while visiting, but have we lost respect for it ourselves? Tourists are now taking snapshots of health warnings at our lakes and rivers. We now have a Govt website where folk can check water quality to see if it’s ok to swim without risking a bout of diarrhoea, giardia, or worse. These places are the face of our New Zealand, once pure, but now infamous for having some of the filthiest waterways in the OECD. It’s not unnoticed by international travel writers either. The 100% Pure New Zealand campaign has become laughable, and rightfully so.
Our visitor numbers need to be conducive to environmental limits, waste management capabilities and the availability of paid accommodation options. At present, we’re working backwards, scurrying to provide free space for guests we continually invite with nowhere to accommodate them in a system that encourages a broken window syndrome. A lone rubbish bag set beside a full bin soon becomes a mountain of refuse for our councils to deal with. Advice on burying faeces is made available on several travel websites suggesting it’s ok to defecate in a public place as long as you cover it up. Free camping options add little to our tourism income and cost us a lot more, fiscally, environmentally and socially. It’s time to close them down and encourage tourism value to our local communities, not volume.

A possible soultion may be reached by imposing a visitor ballot. If we select the volume of visitors we receive according to available accommodation options that support our tourism community, there would be no need to build roadside communes. Visitor numbers could increase when the correct infrastructure is in place and new tourism ventures emerge. mission statement is “To encourage a culture of pride and stewardship in locals and guests alike”. It is my experience that offering free camping does neither.
While endeavouring to provide visitors with responsible camping options, has previously listed designated free camping areas. They have now been removed from our website.

Jennifer Branje


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