It’s been a bit of a dilemma as to what subject I should focus on in this, my first column for the year (Northland Age). There is the very real poverty issue and what I believe sits at its heart – poverty of the soul and the need for empowered community leadership.
Then there’s the growing momentum to drive zero waste. How do we make in-roads into this important issue when too many of us can’t even manage to get our rubbish into the bin!
And thirdly, the exciting and growing opportunities within the visitor industry.
This last topic won out. Simply because it is so positive and actually, with some smart approaches, could make some serious in-roads into the first two points.
I believe tourism is a key industry in driving positive change across the whole of the Far North. That’s if we work together, play to our strengths and continue to focus on delivering authentic experiences.
Why? Because we have the most incredible natural environment and our hospitality - it’s just what we do naturally - manaakitanga.
Another thing I love so much about this industry, other than the joy of being able to celebrate and share just what makes this place so darn special, is that, if done right, it should help protect and nurture our environment.
New Zealand’s visitor industry is booming. Shared stats for New Zealand included tourism being 10% of our economy (still higher than dairy), 12% of the NZ workforce and 21% of our total exports - with a potential 4.5 million international visitors by 2022!
I have certainly observed a bumper summer season in the Bay of Islands. So much so, over the Christmas period that the water supply for Paihia/Waitangi was operating 22 hours a day to keep up with demand.
Obviously, the opportunities for employment are huge, ensuring we develop in a way that the benefits are real and long-lasting.
Council will soon discuss, with an aim to clarify, our role in supporting this important industry. Where can we best put our efforts and limited resources? Is there opportunity to look at plan changes and trial tourism ‘precincts’? Paihia comes to mind.
What’s the opportunity to promote and educate our visitors (and ourselves for that matter) on the importance of looking after our own backyard? And how do we better mitigate the negative impacts of the industry? I’m looking forward to this discussion.
I want to sneak in one final thought. Is it time for a name change? Although there is an affinity to it, the ‘Far North’ really doesn’t capture who we are. It isn’t a great marketing tool and then there’s the baggage. I believe a fresh ‘approach’ is needed, something aspirational that will be part of changing our story. A name that celebrates tō tātou – our place!
Food for thought.