As dairy declines, New Zealand milks tourism boom

Mon Jan 18, 2016 4:24pm EST
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By Rebecca Howard

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand's booming tourism industry is emerging as a cornerstone of an economy hit by declining dairy exports, but the hordes descending on silver screen locations such as Hobbiton are stretching the small island nation's resources.

While the growing numbers of visitors bring in much needed revenue, there is increasing public criticism as campers litter parts of the pristine countryside and locals blame foreign drivers for causing carnage on the roads.

"The biggest problem is the mess they leave behind," said Chris Choat, spokesman for Tasman District Council in the South Island, where "freedom campers", who park overnight in areas that have no formal facilities, have riled residents as they use bushes for toilets.

Until recently, dairy was the backbone of the island nation's economy, representing around 25 percent of exports. But dairy prices have dropped sharply since scaling record highs in 2013, due to China's economic slowdown and global oversupply.

International tourists, meanwhile, hit a record-breaking 3.09 million in the year to the end of November.

The private-sector Tourism Industry Association (TIA) estimates the value of international tourism reached NZ$13.5 billion ($8.85 billion) in the year to September, overtaking the $NZ13 billion the dairy sector earned in the same period. 

The trend is not expected to slow down, given the weak New Zealand dollar and increasing airline capacity.

"We are having a boom period at the moment and we expect to maintain strong levels of growth," said TIA Chief Executive Chris Roberts.   Continued...

Tourists visit mud volcanoes and geysers at Wai-O-Tapu, or "Sacred Waters", in the central area of New Zealand's North Island, in this file picture taken September 26, 2011.  REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel/Files