The Waikato observatory will play an important role in providing robust data for better-informed planning and decision-making around tourism in New Zealand.

The University of Waikato Management School will host New Zealand’s first Tourism Monitoring Observatory, which reports to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).

The newly established Waikato Tourism Monitoring Observatory officially joined the UNWTO’s International Network for Sustainable Tourism (INSTO) on 11 April, following a one-year application process supported by former Prime Minister John Key and current Tourism Minister Paula Bennett.

Established in 2004, INSTO is a global network of centres that carry out research to support evidence-based management of sustainable tourism at a local level, by monitoring the economic, environmental and social benefits and impacts of tourism activities.

At present there are 18 observatories, operating in China, the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Jamaica, Greece, Croatia, Morocco, Indonesia - and now New Zealand joins the list.

Waikato Management School’s tourism and hospitality research cluster was ranked 24th best in the world in the QS World University Subject Rankings 2017, based on academic credentials, research citations and employer reputation.

“Tourism is a key growth industry for New Zealand, contributing an estimated $1.28 billion tourist spending in the Waikato region alone each year,” says Tourism Professor Chris Ryan who is leading the Waikato observatory’s research programme.

“However, it’s important that we actively manage the pressures that increasing tourist numbers can put on our natural, social and built environments. The Waikato observatory will play an important role in providing robust data for better-informed planning and decision-making around tourism in New Zealand,” he says.

The observatory’s five-year research programme will initially focus on the two small towns of Raglan and Waitomo, which attract nearly 400,000 visitors a year. Raglan is world-famous for its left-hand point surf break, while Waitomo is internationally renowned for its spectacular limestone glow-worm caves.

“We’ll start by investigating visitors' and residents' current perceptions of tourism services in Raglan and Waitomo,” says Professor Ryan. “Then we’ll start to look at how tourism is affecting the local environment through increased demand for vital infrastructure, such as roads, carparks, water supply and sewage management.”

Research results will be reported at regular intervals to the UNWTO and other key stakeholders, including Waikato District Council, Hamilton & Waikato Tourism, and the Raglan and Waitomo chambers of commerce. A series of public meetings will also be organised to gather feedback from local communities.

“It was the strong sense of community in Raglan that helped us to identify it as the perfect place where we could begin to develop the research techniques necessary for carrying out such a project,” says Professor Ryan.

The United Nations has declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. It aims to promote the UN’s sustainable development goals of reducing poverty and social inequalities, and protecting local environments and cultural heritage.

“Tourism has an important role to play in seeking to achieve these sustainable development goals, as many people in New Zealand and the Waikato region have jobs that depend on wealth created by the tourism sector,” says Professor Ryan.

Professor Ryan is director of the China-New Zealand Tourism Research Unit based at Waikato Management School, and editor of the journals Tourism Management and Tourism Management Perspective.


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