Authorities are launching a crackdown on dodgy tourism operators who are tarnishing New Zealand’s international reputation.
Reported cases of low-end operators charging tourists for visiting public gardens and art galleries have led the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) to try to clean up the industry.
“We are concerned by some low-end operators and we are working to get them off the road,” NZTA Southern transport relationships manager Dennis Robertson, of Christchurch, said.
Horror stories involving low-end operators, often catering for the Chinese market, abounded in the industry, and such behaviour added no value to New Zealand’s international reputation, he said.
Reports of Asian operators charging tourists for entering public amenities and collecting commission from souvenir stores and restaurants were common.
“This commission form of tourism means people are getting a limited view of what New Zealand has to offer.”
It was also a major concern for the agency that many operators did not have the correct licence to operate their vehicles, endangering the lives of tourists, Mr Robertson said.
The agency had recently begun a system of checking vehicles and drivers in the tourism sector, and was working to establish a complaints system for Otago-Southland, he said.
Last year, the NZTA discovered a newly created Dunedin-based company marketing, via the Internet, high-end wildlife tours to North American tourists.
“These people had set up a one-off company with the intent of making a quick buck,” Mr Robertson said.
Two 12-seater buses had been organised for the tour, highlighting the fact rental companies should be more thorough before renting vehicles to unlicensed operators.
Another concern was unlicensed taxis offering rides to cruise ship passengers, a trend all too common overseas, he said.
“We don’t want that sort of thing happening here.”
The aim of the new system was to check operators were licensed to carry passengers, operated safe vehicles, were not “ripping off” passengers and were providing a good quality tourist experience.
Checking licences and vehicles, inspecting logbooks and talking to tourists were the best ways to check on tourism operators and the agency would issue fines if companies were non-compliant, he said.
Regional tourism organisations told the Otago Daily Times they supported the NZTA move, saying it would help the industry.
Destination Queenstown chief executive Stephen Pahl said he “wholeheartedly supported a crackdown”.
“With China continuing to grow as a significant market for New Zealand, and Queenstown, it is more important than ever to address these issues.”
Tourism Dunedin chief executive Hamish Saxton said quality control was an “absolute must” for the tourism industry.
He supported moves by the NZTA to crack down on “cowboys”.
The organisation received phone calls before each cruise-ship season from would-be tourism operators wanting to get involved.
“We are a quality destination. We sell ourselves on quality and we have to ensure the whole tourism experience is not sullied by the shonky activities of one or two cowboys,” he said.