The article in the Wall Street Journal is gated but primarily deals with New Zealand - https://www.wsj.com/articles/anger-over-tourists-swarming-vacation-hot-spots-sparks-global-backlash-1527000130
QUEENSTOWN, New Zealand—Towering mountain ranges, forests and glacier-fed rivers made New Zealand the perfect stand-in for Middle Earth in “The Lord of the Rings” movie series and a cinematic billboard for the country’s natural beauty.
Today, jet boats rip down rivers seeking the mythical Isengard, where the wizard Gandalf was imprisoned. “Freedom campers” in rented vans leave trails of waste. Tens of thousands of helicopter trips annually deposit visitors, some in flip-flops, on New Zealand glaciers that were once the realm of expert climbers.
One tour group had to be rescued after trying to walk barefoot to Mount Ngauruhoe, in apparent homage to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Mount Doom.
Elected officials are weighing measures from new tourist taxes to tighter camper-van restrictions. One town is considering shutting Wi-Fi at night to deter campers. Queenstown, whose mayor says it has 120 visitors a year for every taxpayer, is weighing whether to restrict Airbnb rentals.
On Waiheke Island off Auckland, protests broke out last year after double-decker tour buses appeared, clogging two-lane roads. One man in shorts stood down a bus until the tourists disembarked. A resident elsewhere became so annoyed with jet boats in a river near his property he hired a digger to divert the water; officials threatened legal action if he persisted.
Tourism, which many countries once considered a business niche that could yield easy revenue, has become a mega-industry. And those millions of tourists who descend each year on small towns, once-lonely beaches and historic sites are generating a global backlash.
International tourist arrivals globally grew to 1.3 billion in 2017, the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization says. That is up from 674 million in 2000 and 278 million in 1980, propelled by the rise of budget air travel, social media, an emerging Chinese middle class and technologies that make distant places easy to navigate.
A wave of antitourism demonstrations took place in popular European destinations last summer, including Venice, Mallorca and San Sebastián, Spain. In Barcelona, youth groups were filmed slashing rental-bicycle tires, and officials banned tour groups from parts of the city.
Fodor’s in 2016 began publishing a “No Go” list reflecting concerns that tourism was destroying the world’s best places. Featured this year: the Galápagos Islands and parts of Thailand, and a designation for “Places That Don’t Want You to Visit” because their governments are trying to combat overcrowding.
Economic driver Tourism remains a crucial and welcome economic driver in many places, especially developing countries such as Cambodia and parts of Africa where visitors’ spending has lifted many out of poverty. A number of countries with well-established attractions, such as Egypt, have been hurt in some recent years as tourism fell off during periods of unrest.
In New Zealand, “we’re hoping for a good debate about this and no knee-jerk reaction,” says Chris Roberts, chief executive of Tourism Industry Aotearoa, an association representing hoteliers and tourist operators. “Tourists are a massive economic benefit.”
Many top tourist destinations, including U.S. national parks, have long worked to strike a balance between luring tourist money and controlling crowds.
The latest surge is different, say experts such as Simon Milne, who has researched tourism around the world, and says frustrations have been boiling at an unprecedented level, especially the past 18 months. “We can’t ignore the fact that tourists don’t have a good rap in many places,” said Mr. Milne, director of the New Zealand Tourism Research Institute at Auckland University of Technology.
Since last summer’s Europe protests, the industry has made “overtourism” a focus. More than 60 tourism ministers and private-sector leaders gathered in November to discuss the issue at a summit on the topic co-organized by the U.N. Overtourism was also a theme in March at ITB Berlin, a major industry convention.
Thailand said in March it would close Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Leh, an island where Leonardo DiCaprio’s “The Beach” was filmed, from June to September because overtouristing was damaging the marine environment. The Philippines in April announced that Boracay, an island once known for crystal-clear waters, would close to tourists for six months over concerns about pollution.
China’s emergence as a tourist source is adding to crowds. Outbound Chinese tourists rose to more than 60 million last year from fewer than 20 million a decade earlier, according to Chinese data.
The Chinese spent $261 billion vacationing abroad in 2016, more than travelers from any other country, and China has accounted for roughly 80% of the growth in global tourism in dollar terms since 2008, according to the U.N. New Zealand’s former prime minister, Bill English, last year declared during a visit by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang that 2019 would be the “China-New Zealand Year of Tourism.”
Yet the boom in Chinese visitors has added to traffic at some tourist hot spots, such as the white-sand tropical beaches and coral reefs of Southeast Asia, that were already under strain from throngs of visitors.
Kiwi crisis New Zealanders once thought of tourism as a green alternative to industries such as mining or timber. Advances in aviation in the 1990s helped make the country more accessible, and government officials moved to capitalize, developing a global-tourism campaign.
In ads after the first “Lord of the Rings” film in 2001, the slogan “100% Pure New Zealand” began morphing into “100% Middle-earth.” The Department of Conservation formed a commercial-business unit to find more ways to generate income from protected areas, providing GPS coordinates of “Rings” locations.
Tourism became a top New Zealand export, along with dairy. “The landscape is so beautiful it looks fake,” says Amy Blitzer, a 34-year-old project manager from New York who took a helicopter flight to a glacier recently.
Places such as Queenstown, gateway to numerous “Rings” sites, boomed. International visitors passing through the local airport hit 567,000 last year, from 39,000 in 2005. Property prices soared. Unemployment averaged 1.9% in 2017, versus 4.7% nationally.
“I’ve lived here for 36 years and the place is a whole lot better than when I came here,” says Jim Boult, the town’s mayor. “Some New Zealanders have the idea that because it isn’t like it was in 1965, it’s not good anymore.”
Locals complain traffic has become a problem, and residents who can’t afford homes feel squeezed out. Jason Medina, an events manager, says he moved to Queenstown in 2004 and found a sleepy mountain town where houses rented for about $1,000 a month. Now, he says people are lucky to get single rooms for that.
A tourism-industry survey last fall found 40% of the country worried tourism was putting too much pressure on New Zealand, up from 18% two years earlier.
Much backlash revolves around Fiordland, a wilderness area near Queenstown. One of its 14 fiords, Milford Sound, is accessible by a narrow, winding road including a one-lane tunnel. Nearly 800,000 tourists visit it each year, many on buses running such tight schedules that some drivers have only a 30-minute buffer to complete the return journey while complying with official limits that let them drive again the next day. Accidents involving overseas drivers are common.
Dozens of tour boats circled the fiord on a recent day, taking turns idling by pods of dolphins and nosing up to waterfalls.
The 87-year-old Federated Mountain Clubs, one of New Zealand’s leading conservation groups, has filed dozens of complaints to the country’s conservation department over the past five years, many related to Fiordland. A petition it circulated against a proposed monorail line and new tunnel into the park received nearly 10,000 signatures. Both proposals were ultimately blocked.
Another battle was over Routeburn trail, one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks,” winding through ancient forests connecting the Fiordland and Mount Aspiring national parks. The conservation department had granted a guiding company the right to nearly double the number of guided walkers it took on the route, overriding limits set out in a recently agreed park plan. The walk was already so popular that hikers complained of congestion.
The department justified its decision under “exceptional circumstances,” a clause in conservation law. After an investigation, an independent ombudsman, whose rulings aren’t binding, called the claim of exceptional circumstances “nonsense on stilts.” The department publicly apologized to the climber who made the complaint but didn’t reverse its loosening of trail rules.
In 2016, at the urging of helicopter companies wanting to offer more flights for Lunar New Year, the conservation department granted a trial eightfold increase in aircraft landings on a remote Fiordland glacier.
The alpine club started a crowdfunding campaign to pay for the department to make its reasoning public. An ombudsman investigation in April ruled the department “acted unreasonably” and that “aspects of its decision appear to be contrary to law.”
Marie Long, the conservation department’s director of planning permissions and land, says it now agrees it made a wrong decision. She says her advice to staff is to stick to existing limits in national-park management plans.
The chief pilot for Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters, Andy Clayton, says he worries a few rogue tourism operators are spoiling things for ones that try to protect New Zealand’s green image. With helicopters, he says, “it’s all about flying neighborly.”
Some industry leaders say it is contradictory that there are New Zealanders who have turned against tourism, given its economic benefits.
“People forget that 10 years ago…the industry and New Zealand communities were screaming out for growth,” says Simon England-Hall, chief executive of Tourism New Zealand, an industry marketing agency. He says operators are aware of the changing mood and that “most of New Zealand is not yet benefiting from increased tourism.”
Last year, the government’s conservation department asked New Zealanders to nominate new areas for development to take pressure off popular hiking trails. They received around 30 responses from a population of 4.8 million, a response rate that Kevin Hackwell, chief conservation adviser for conservation group Forest & Bird, says isn’t surprising.
“Why would anyone want to volunteer their favorite local walk,” he says, “to be commercialized in the way the ‘Great Walks’ have, and overrun?”
Last September’s national election divided the nation between those who benefited from the conservative administration’s nine-year stewardship of the economy and those who felt left behind. The winning center-left Labour Party pledged to tax tourists to help fund new infrastructure.
The new conservation minister, Eugenie Sage, a conservationist who fought the Fiordland monorail, says increasing aircraft landings and expanding commercial activities on conservation land can’t go on forever.
“There is a limit,” she says. “If you’re going to a concert and the venue is sold out, you can’t go.”