Overseas income from tourism is now claimed to exceed the dairy industry’s export income.
Dairy farmers are accused of polluting not only our waterways but now also our air as a result of burning farm waste. Tourism is said to be ‘clean and green’, rapidly growing and promoting the best of NZ to the rest of the world.
Like many glib statements, the truth is often more complicated.
If you have recently tried to rent a car, stayed in a motel, driven on our main tourist routes or visited a tourist site you will have experienced some of the negative impact of the tourist industry.
If we look at the economic impact of tourism the picture gets even worse. Tourism generates about $14 billion annually. The industry employs 13% of our workforce. While this is good for employment, unfortunately the sector generates only 8% of NZ’s gross income: each worker in the tourism industry generates $44,000 of annual income.
The average worker in NZ contributes $74,000 to our gross income. A job in the tourist industry is only worth about 60% of the value of a job in the rest of our economy. If we compare tourism workers with dairy industry workers it gets even worse.
Each of the 50,000 dairy workers in NZ contributes about $700,000 to our economy -- nearly 20 times the amount that a tourism worker gains for our economy.
The dairy sector provides much higher quality, higher earning jobs than tourism does. NZ’s standard of living declines as we employ more people in the tourism sector. To increase our standard of living we need to increase the number of higher value jobs, as in the dairy industry.
But the problems with the tourism industry go beyond the low wages the industry pays.
Last year Christchurch City Council issued fines to freedom campers who defecated or urinated in public places. Half of the people issued with fines gave the council a two-figure salute and refused to pay, knowing they would leave NZ and ignore the fines.
Often it is taxpayers and ratepayers who bear the costs associated with the tourism industry. Tourists increase road congestion that slows traffic, and increase transport costs to local businesses. NZ residents’ quality of life is negatively affected when we find our favorite holiday location booked up and busloads of tourists filling the area; try visiting Akaroa when a cruise ship is berthed there.
Tourists by their nature are transient, so controlling or disciplining them is often impossible. Dairy farmers are on the other hand are easy to control, legislate against and discipline. It is not easy for them to up sticks and move if life get too hot.
All of us involved in farming know of the controls and constraints imposed on farmers. Yes, farming must be environmentally responsible and sustainable, but farmers must not be held accountable unfairly.
If we want greater income nationally we need more industries like dairying. We need to improve our productivity and improve individual incomes. Over the last five years we have had virtually no improvement in our productivity; in fact we have lost ground relative to other OECD countries.
Increased tourist numbers and more employment in tourism industries is a sure way to lower our average income. The last thing we need, as a country, is a reduced standard of living.
• Alastair Frizzell, BAgSc, is managing director of Frizzell Agricultural Electronics.