Air New Zealand adviser wants flights to be more expensive to deter tourists

An adviser to New Zealand’s national airline is calling for much higher airfares to the country, saying it was “good” if that put people off visiting.

British environmentalist Sir Jonathon Porritt, who is the chief environmental adviser to Air New Zealand, said an airfare hike would help pay for the greenhouse gas emissions generated by the long-haul flights when New Zealand’s borders reopened.

He told local outlet Newsroom it would likely deter people from visiting New Zealand post-COVID, which would avoid “thoughtless, heedless tourism” in the small but popular nation.

“Controversial though it may be, I’m in favour of putting off some people coming to New Zealand,” Mr Porritt said.

“I just don’t believe in the idea that the number of international visitors to New Zealand can grow and grow and grow without limits. I just don’t believe that is credible and I don’t believe it’s right.

“So, if a higher price for the privilege of flying to New Zealand puts some people off, good.”

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His comments followed a proposal by Simon Upton, New Zealand’s Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, for a distance-based passenger tax that could add as much as $25 on economy seats on flights from Australia.

Mr Upton said the proposal could raise up to $400 million a year that could be spent on environmental initiatives in the Pacific region.

Air New Zealand’s sustainability advisory panel, which is headed by Mr Porritt, will meet this month to discuss a range of environmental issues, including Mr Upton’s passenger tax proposal.

Mr Porritt said he wouldn’t comment on the proposal until he had spoken to other members of the panel.

However the New Zealand government already appears to have poured cold water on the proposal, with a spokesperson for Tourism Minister Stuart Nash telling Newsroom: “He (the Minister) has told media he is not a fan of the proposal and that an international visitor levy (on arrivals) was already in place.”

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Before the pandemic, New Zealand attracted about 3.9 million international visitors annually, contributing about $17.5 billion to the national coffers.

The large numbers of international arrivals have prompted concerns about overtourism in New Zealand, which has a population of less than five million.

A 2019 report by Mr Upton warned too many tourists could devastate New Zealand’s landscapes and lead to overcrowding already seen in destinations across Europe, including Venice and Barcelona.

“The sheer numbers of people are eroding the sense of isolation, tranquillity and access to nature that many overseas tourists seek when visiting New Zealand,” Mr Upton said.

“We need to ask, are we in danger of killing the goose that laid the golden egg?”

Mr Porritt agreed pre-COVID levels of tourism in New Zealand could not continue after the pandemic.

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“(There’s) no going back,” he said, adding “thoughtless, heedless” tourism led many to believe air travel was a right, rather than a privilege.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Radio New Zealand on Tuesday international borders would reopen at the end of the year with the completion of the national vaccine rollout.

It comes as the one-way trans-Tasman travel bubble reopened on Tuesday night as Auckland’s hotspot status was dropped following an outbreak.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison called on Ms Ardern today to open up to Australian travellers in the same way Australia has for Kiwis.

“If the New Zealand government doesn’t wish Australians to visit New Zealand and spend money in Queenstown or Wellington or other parts of the country, that’s a matter for them,” he said.

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