The Department of Conservation (DOC) needs more 'teeth' to prosecute commercial tourism operators offering products and services illegally on public conservation land, say tourism industry organisations.
Many tourism operators have paid concessions which allow them to access public conservation land, however there are real concerns about the number offering guided walks of less than one hour and photographic sightseeing tours who are not paying DOC concession fees, says Tourism Industry Association New Zealand (TIA) Chief Executive Chris Roberts.
"DOC's decision to ramp up its compliance monitoring programme for the coming summer season is a positive step, but they need more resources and legal clout to do this effectively," Chris Roberts says.
"The current environment is creating an uneven playing field and compliant operators are frustrated that while they pay significant amounts to operate within the law, others don't.
"There's little value in having rules, if they are not being enforced."
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Tourism Export Council NZ (TEC) Chief Executive Lesley Immink says the natural environment is New Zealand tourism's key competitive advantage. Non-compliant operators mean the government is getting less money to reinvest into national parks and other public conservation land.
DOC needs to act with more urgency to stem this financial leak and enforce concession compliance, which includes safety checks. There is no way to check non-compliant operators are giving visitors the same safe experience when they are on DOC land.
Bus Coach Association NZ (BCA) Chief Executive Barry Kidd agrees, saying his members are becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of a robust compliance monitoring programme.
The law requires anyone receiving commercial gain from public land to pay a concession, but the current system is acting as a disincentive for operators to comply.
Chris Roberts says DOC is hampered by a lack of resources and a long-winded legal process which requires them to take non-compliant operators to court. He says a law change is needed.
TIA, TEC and BCA are lobbying the Government for a compliance framework developed in consultation with industry, and improved legislation to enable DOC to prosecute offending operators on the spot via infringement notices and instant fines.