New Zealand’s protected marine reserves could become key tourism attractions as worldwide interest in conservation continues to soar.
A study headed by Lincoln University’s Michael Shone found that the conservation setting of Akaroa marine reserves plays an important role in drawing visitors to the area.
Dr Shone says many tourists are attracted to national parks like Tongariro and Aoraki Mt Cook due to the conservation factor, but there was less certainty about the “pulling power” of New Zealand marine reserves.
“This is one of the first studies to show that visitors are willing to pay to be in these marine areas.”
He suggests that marine tourism operations could consider strengthening the conservation message in their branding and promotional material.
“This would draw attention to conservation itself and promote our 100% Pure brand, as well as highlight a wider range of tourism offerings in New Zealand.”
The project involved surveying tourists about why they visited particular Akaroa attractions, many of which operate in protected areas such as the Akaroa and Pohatu Marine Reserves, and the Akaroa Marine Mammal Sanctuary.
“A high number of tourists in the study said they sought out marine tourism activities because they were interested in the conservation aspect of Akaroa’s protected marine environment,” Dr Shone says.
“Conservation is an important part of New Zealand’s tourism promotion message. The growth in international visitor arrivals, particularly over the past five years, and the increased pressure on our key visitor attractions, means that this message is more salient than ever.”
Dr Shone says New Zealand is synonymous with environmental quality and many international visitors come here expecting to visit protected areas.
“The tourism potential associated with our protected marine areas, if carefully managed, could provide destinations like Akaroa with more opportunities to not only increase economic yield but also strengthen our conservation credentials through marine ecotourism.
“Banks Peninsula is promoted on the back of French heritage and village charm, but much more could be made of the conservation values associated with the area.
“Our research helps us to say with some confidence that ‘conservation pays, so conservation stays’, which demonstrates the potential for our protected marine areas to provide both conservation and economic benefit to destination areas in New Zealand.”