18 August 2008

Lonely Planet urges NZ to stay "green", provides travellers with a "GreenDex"

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In a press release from the Lonely Planet today, New Zealand has been urged to protect its "green" status and conserve its country’s natural beauty.

The Lonely Planet is a worldwide travel-guide company that encourages independent travellers to make a positive impact during their travels, and in its release of the 14th edition of the New Zealand guidebook today the company warned the New Zealand tourism industry to protect and preserve the natural surroundings that give New Zealand its global fame as a tourist destination.

"There are few countries on this lonely planet as diverse, unspoiled and utterly, utterly photogenic," writers commented in the guidebook, adding that New Zealand’s "outlandish scenery, fabulous festivals, superb food & wine, and magical outdoor experiences" make it a unique destination for international travellers.

The New Zealand tourism industry is embracing sustainable approaches to tourism.  Last week, an initiative known as Qualmark was introduced to measure the level of sustainability in business operations in New Zealand.  Qualmark is an official accreditation for tourism operators that shows the business practices responsible environmental, cultural and social actions.  Businesses will be assessed on the Responsible Tourism Operations criteria, which focus on energy, waste, water, conservation and community activities. 

The purpose of the accreditation is for travellers to make smarter decisions about their holidays and contribute to reducing the environmental and social impact caused by their travel to New Zealand

Geoff Penrose, Qualmark Chief Executive, told sustainability.govt.nz the tourism industry is rising to the occasion and implementing inventive sustainable approaches to tourism. 

"These minimum requirements are designed to reflect sound environmental practices and visitor expectations. Equally important though is that the new criteria are also about recognising actions, behaviours, programmes [and] monitoring those that are under way in tourism businesses," said Mr Penrose.

In the Lonely Planet guide, for the first time ever a "GreenDex" has been included that indexes listings in terms of sustainable approaches to tourism.  All eating, accommodation and tour choices have been evaluated in terms of how much they adhere to sustainable policies so that people who visit New Zealand can make smarter, informed decisions while on their holiday.

"We hope that this, and other similar initiatives, will encourage other operators to see that there’s a clear financial advantage in operating an environmentally-responsible business," said the guidebook’s co-ordinating author, Charles Rawlings-Way.

The guidebook also focuses on Maori tourism and how travellers can experience the indigenous culture without having a negative impact. 

"Our take is that grass-roots, small-scale Maori tourism operators give a more genuine experience for travellers and we’ve made a conscious effort to include more of them in the guide," added Mr Charles Rawlings-Way.

The travel-guide company prides itself on providing unbiased reviews of travel destinations, and in its 14th New Zealand edition remains full of praise for its natural surroundings, city-centres and country towns. 

Travellers are encouraged to "rock into Wellington for a big city hit" and experience its "red-hot arts scene", while writers explained Auckland can "justifiably respond to its detractors, 'Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful'".  New Zealand country towns have been described as "cute as a button" (Naseby), "best-kept secret" (Opoutere), and "laid-back to near horizontal ... dreadlocked types rub shoulders with hardened farmers and crusty fishermen in equilibrium: the bike shop sells guitar strings; the pub serves chai" (Takaka).

The Bay of Islands and Blenheim copped a punch from the guide, which said the Bay is beautiful but over-hyped, and Blenheim can only offer a gate-way to the famous Marlborough wine region.

The New Zealand Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in helping people emigrate to New Zealand.

Article by Jessica Bird, New Zealand Visa Bureau.

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