Time to welcome campers

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The vast majority of visitors to our shores come from heavily populated countries, often from high density apartment living and they can only imagine what it must be like to live on a ‘‘quarter-acre’’ section. Therefore the chance to ‘‘rough it’’ in NZ, living close to nature and having a flexible itinerary so that they can truly appreciate the farm lands, mountains, lakes and starfilled skies at night is something they value highly.
What nature has gifted us is so special and so readily available
Free Independent Travellers (FITs) may choose to be backpackers or freedom campers, or use fully serviced campervans, farm stays, home stays or cars. They are generally technology-savvy and feel confident about varying their schedules to suit the weather and the range of attractions and experiences that they encounter during their visit.
Let Queenstown be Queenstown, but for me the major point of difference that our region offers tourists, between the Rangitata, Waitaki and the mountains, is the potential to deliver that special something else that they are looking for. What nature has gifted us is so special and so readily available. The visitors’ photos and video shots are instantly downloaded to their friends and relations back home. The scenery, open spaces, friendly and helpful locals will be their ‘‘visit NZ’’ sales pitch when they return home.
Yes, a media headline announcing yet another new tourist hotel might be what catches our attention but this is only a small part of our tourism industry. It is estimated that 60,000 international visitors to NZ each year choose freedom camping and, contrary to the view of the local nimbys, they stay longer and spend more than the average tourist. Providing modest, if necessary, user pays amenities and facilities so as to encourage them to stay longer and spend more in our region requires a minimum capital investment compared to top hotel structures.
The regular ‘‘banging on’’ about the need to alienate and ostracise freedom campers when all they want is parking areas and minimum associated amenities isn’t helpful. Surely all travellers in our region need access to toilets at regular intervals.
Let’s embrace freedom camping and create an image of a region that welcomes ALL visitors and, in particular, caters for freedom camping, nature loving tourists. If we want the undisputed economic advantages of foreign visitors staying longer and spending more, let’s provide facilities, set-out firm guidelines and regulations and then properly police these. They will pay if the market pricing is competitively set and the local authorities allocate acceptable areas and then strictly penalise those who try to cheat the system.
Let’s make our region not just another all-round visitor friendly destination but lead with our major point of difference being that we are the Freedom Camping Capital of New Zealand.