Hobbiton. Photo via Tourism NZ

The Bulletin: Nervousness about tourism numbers

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Nervousness about latest batch of tourist numbers, Waitangi Tribunal hammers prisoner voting ban, and more refugees heading for smaller provincial centres.

The tourism industry is showing definite signs of a wobble, with arrival number growth looking flat and certain key markets dropping away. Despite 2019 being the China-NZ Year of Tourism (remember that whole thing?) the number of people coming from there dropped by 3% in June, reports the NZ Herald. Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong arrival numbers are all down as well for the month. Total visitor numbers were up slightly, driven largely by the USA and Australia.

The concern is particularly evident on the West Coast, reports the Greymouth Star (via the ODT who republished it.) There were some key details in that story from people whose region relies heavily on tourism to survive, such as the noting of a profit projection downgrade from Air NZ, which suggests there will be fewer ‘bums on seats’ coming into the country. For the Coast, which has had a tough time of it recently, any downturn would hit hard. Climate change generally is a looming horror for the Coast, not only because of weather disasters and rising seas, but because of increasing anxiety about flying, and the region’s relative inaccessibility.

Of course, it follows five years of explosive growth for the industry – put into context by this Stuff story. But that sort of growth led to a lot of tourism operators planning for bigger numbers, which might not necessarily be reached. For example, a plan has been approved for Hobbiton in Matamata to take in more than a million visitors a year, reports Stuff. And bigger numbers aren’t necessarily better for locals – the story also carries quotes from opponents living in the 8000 person town who say the area can’t take the strain of so many.

Regardless of which direction total visitor numbers go, the tourists are now doing more to fill the public purse. This feature from Stuff is a good look at the new visitor levy, through which $2.8 million has been raised so far, but the rate of money being raised is expected to rise significantly when new clauses come into effect in October. Half the money raised will go towards tourist infrastructure, and half will go towards conservation. Everyone watching how the funding gets used will be hoping that the most gets made of it, because as a flat levy of $35 per head, the money it raises is entirely dependant on visitor quantity, and the current big numbers might not last forever.

The ban on prisoners voting has been given a hammering by the Waitangi Tribunal. Writing on The Spinoff, law professor Andrew Geddis says the decision is based on the law massively disproportionately affecting Māori, and that the previous government failed to take that into account when creating the ban. That’s aside from the anti-democratic, dehumanising and plain old politically ugly aspects of the ban. For more on how the ban denies basic human dignity, read this powerful piece from former prisoner Awatea Mita.

More refugees will be heading for smaller provincial centres, as the increased quota gets filled, reports Stuff. Dunedin is currently welcoming the largest number of refugees a year, with many of that cohort arriving from Syria. Meanwhile around the country, communities are starting to thrive in their new homes, such as the Colombians in Invercargill, or the Afghanis in Palmerston North.

Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere has raised eyebrows with his new homelessness policy. Radio NZ has a report on it – basically he wants a hotline (0800 522 4632 for the record, which is already in use) for people to call if they see a homeless person. And then a social worker will be dispatched, and will be able to legally compel said homeless person to come with them. There would be huge resourcing issues with that of course, but Tamihere believes that state funded social workers have “16 hours of down time” outside of their nine to five job, which they could be using for this.

Māori development minister Nanaia Mahuta has told the previous government that they are partly to blame with what has happened at Ihumātao. Speaking to The Hui, Mahuta said consultation on the piece of land was lacking, and that the Special Housing Area legislation was pushed through by National and the Māori Party. The Labour government has worn plenty of anger during the recent standoff, with calls for PM Jacinda Ardern to go there being rebuffed by senior Labour MPs.

A bit of the old wild weather overnight has smashed the country. Radio NZ reports The Cloud in Auckland has suffered nasty damage to the roof, along with several other houses and buildings being affected. For the country as a whole, the coming week is going to feature some pretty unpleasant wind and rain, so rug up warm.

Staff at the now closed restaurant chain Wagamama say they are owed thousands by their former bosses, reports Stuff. The company went into receivership earlier this year, and a group say they’re collectively owed about $50,000. Worker advocate Chloe Ann-King says wage theft is common in hospitality, as the industry has low union density and employment laws are difficult to enforce.

There have been a few negative stories recently about the billion trees programme, so here’s a more positive one for balance. The ODT’s Hamish MacLean has reported on moves to get kids at an Oamaru high school learning horticultural skills, through working with a native plant nursery. It’s not in place yet, but there’s wide enthusiasm around the district for getting it off the ground.

We all know being in news can have occupational hazards, but this is ridiculous. Delivery drivers for The Beacon (a Whakatāne area paper) have been left shaken after early morning hassling from both the Mongrel Mob and police in Opōtiki. Their vehicle looked similar to one used in a shooting earlier that night, which made them a target. However, true to the spirit of doing the news, they still tried to finish their deliveries.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Rachel Buchanan writes about the legacy of Parihaka, and who gets to claim the name and speak for the people who took a stand there. Alice Webb-Liddall writes about Ian Taylor, the guy hijacking the Cook commemorations to tell the story of Polynesian navigation. Climate activist Melanie Vautier argues that fighting to save milk is a poor way to go about maintaining food security. Danyl Mclauchlan, who once had an outstanding blog of his own, writes about the legacy of Whaleoil, and whether or not it was ever as powerful as it claimed to be.

And I spent the weekend at The Opportunities Party conference, and filed this report from it. TOP faces huge challenges after a messy civil war, and are trying to put animosity from their founder and former leader behind them.

You might have heard over the weekend that wealthy alleged paedophile Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his cell. You might also have heard far more in the way of conspiracy theories about how he died than whatever is considered the official version. Now I personally don’t know what to believe. Many will reach for a different answer to what is being put about, and this article on The Atlantic does a pretty good job of explaining why this particular case will be such a lightning rod for conspiracy theorists. Here’s an excerpt:

“Right now, in real time, mainstream media—they’re going to have to adjust their operating software; they’re going to have to adjust their mental model of the world,” Mike Cernovich said. “It doesn’t matter how normie mainstream you are. It doesn’t matter how credible you think you are.” The official story of Epstein’s suicide, he declared, “just does not make sense.”

It would be easy to treat this frenzied reaction to Epstein’s death as a sad case study in how conspiratorial thinking has bled into mainstream discourse. But finger-wagging feels inadequate at this moment.

As I’ve written before, every grotesque beat of Epstein’s story—including, now, his untimely death—illustrates how America’s culture of elite impunity, failure, and corruption has allowed conspiracy theorists to thrive.

A mixed weekend for national rugby teams. The Black Ferns hammered Australia to take their winning streak in the fixture out to 18 games. But the tables were turned in the men’s game, with the Wallabies beating a 14-man All Blacks 47-26, with coach Steve Hansen saying his team played “dumb footy.”

Meanwhile, the Warriors are continuing to question the weird refereeing calls that keep going against them. The NZ Herald reports the latest is from Blake Green, who asked rhetorically during Friday’s game why the NRL didn’t just “kick us out of the comp?” Ultimately, the Warriors actually won the game against Manly, but the frustration suggests the perception is now baked in to the team.

From our partners: With several high profile government objectives in the spotlight, a single ministry could drive better outcomes across them all. Robyn Holdaway, senior policy advisor at Vector, makes the case for a Ministry for Energy.

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