Sustainability means many things to many different people but can be elegantly summarized as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
Central to the concept of sustainability is the use of resources in such a way that the resources are preserved into the future. In the case of the New Zealand tour operator, some of the key resources that underpin the values of our tourism industry are our wilderness experience, incredible natural scenery and generally uncrowded environment. And here lies the inbuilt dilemma within the New Zealand tourism industry. The very values and attributes that we rely on as a tour operator are at risk of compromise by the success of the very industry that relies on them. Clearly, if this situation is un-managed, the tourism industry in it's current form will not be sustainable in the medium term.
How then, in a relatively free market, does the industry address this aspect of sustainable operation? How is a balance achieved between the current economic needs of the tour operator, and the preservation of the tourism resource for future generations?
In New Zealand, a huge amount of the conservation estate is under the control of either the central government Department of Conservation, or regional councils. This centralized control makes it possible to rationally manage the access to this estate, especially in the case of tour operators who use the estate for economic activity. Through their concession process, the Department of Conservation attempts to manage the loading and impacts on conservation lands, ensuring preserving the core values of this land. Many aspects need to be addressed when evaluating the impacts of a human activity on the conservation estate. These may include such issues as noise generation, over crowding, rubbish disposal, requirement for structures and facilities, and damage to rare flora and fauna. In evaluating the effects of these things on the conservation value of an area, you must first be able to define the values you are trying to protect and preserve, only then is it possible to manage the human activity in such a way that the effects are minimized and mitigated into the future.
The process of obtaining a concession is long, expensive, and not without bureaucratic involvement, but the process of balancing competing needs in an iconic landscape is complex and is critical for the truly sustainable operation of the New Zealand tourism industry.