Rural tourism development: Lessons from New Zealand

2 Mar

I haven’t written any new posts for a month because my husband and I have been traveling in New Zealand and Australia! Twenty years of dreaming, ten years of talking, five years of saving, two years of planning, two months of logistical coordination, and now it’s history! The trip was even more wonderful than we anticipated– good thing given the long lead up! Although purely on holiday, I couldn’t help but wear my community development hat, especially in New Zealand, which has many parallels to the Pacific Northwest. This first of what I anticipate to be several travel inspired posts focuses on tourism development innovations. (post-script: Part II and Part III)

Could be Eugene, but it's Dunedin, New Zealand view from airport

We could have been coming into our home airport in Eugene when we first landed in New Zealand at Dunedin. The lay of the land was eerily familiar!  Located at roughly the same latitude south as Oregon is north, New Zealand has similar population density and land mass. Both places have volcanic mountains, dramatic shoreline, rich culture, quirky arts, verdant forests, great wine and strong environmental stewardship. So, why is remote New Zealand such a powerful draw?  Why were we happy to spend good money halfway around the world on such similar experiences to what we have at home?

Well, perhaps the remoteness was a draw in and of itself!  But there’s something more subtle at work that I sensed while booking the trip and experienced first hand while in the country. The products and services are well-integrated, so that it’s easy to patch together an itinerary, to travel independently while tapping local expertise,to connect with both large and very small businesses, to meet local folks and experience their world view.

I’ll describe these dynamics more fully in my next post, but here’s a preview:

  • Strong system of logistical support for moving from inn to inn, from one community to another, from one activity to another, from something more guided to something less guided. We could access great rural experiences without a car.  There’s a whole business sector oriented toward this “connecting” function.
  • In most destinations, a wide range of services and accommodations for travelers with different budgets and interests, from backpackers to five star luxury, even in remote areas. This leads to an interesting diversity of fellow travelers.
  • The country’s multicultural history and current society is generally presented as an integrated story, unvarnished but authentic. This is in contrast to many specialized, often fragmented historical and cultural attractions I’ve experienced elsewhere.
  • Conservation, arts,and outdoor recreation are integrated together in visitor products and services, which gives a fascinating lens on different locations. For example, we saw art rather than signage used to mark hiking trails.
  • Very small businesses are highlighted and connected into tourism products and services. There are many tiny bed and breakfasts with just two rooms, that nevertheless have international visitors due to integrated marketing. Local food sources and business partnerships are visible and celebrated.

I am convinced that Oregon has the raw material to craft even more fantastic visitor experiences, and we have a state tourism marketing organization, Travel Oregon, that’s nationally recognized for its innovative approaches. Inspired by a distant “alternate universe”, I’m excited to share more specifics. . . and then plan a similar dream trip here in my own backyard soon!

A few more pics from the trip are below, just for fun!

Queen Charlotte Track, Marlborough Sounds; four days of trekking through this was easy to take! Especially given the exceptional food and lodging along the way.

Tongariro Crossing- steep and slippery! The mountain shrouded in the clouds was featured in Lord of the Rings as Mount Doom.