It was interesting to attend the recent LGNZ Freedom Camping Symposium and hear how other Councils view the problem. The consensus appeared to be that campers were welcome; Councils were just requesting that Government share some of the income that these campers generate via GST and or additional taxes (such as a tourist tax at the border) to help with the required infrastructure to accommodate them.
Extreme examples such as the ratepayers of the McKenzie country being outnumbered 30 to 1 by visitors during the summer season highlight the huge costs that some councils are dealing with to accommodate “FREEdom” Camping. Putting in user-pays toilets and rubbish disposal at hot spots like The Church of the Good Shepherd is one of the methods they have instituted to try and cope.
Some councils, like Rotorua, say that they have no problem with Freedom Campers. They have embraced the multi-cultural vibe that these global travellers bring to the district. They have also obviously embraced the opportunity to extract as much money as possible from their tourists while they are camped in the region.
Queenstown and Lakes district have taken to a heavy handed legislative approach to solving their huge influx and limited space to accommodate the Freedom Camping Tsunami. An approach that they claim to be working currently. It was generally agreed that most tourists (with some exceptions) want to comply with local rules and not be a burden to locals.
I was impressed by Sam Broughton the young Mayor from Selwyn and his mature appreciation of the problem. He suggested that perhaps it is time that we had an adult conversation around the fact that the world we grew up is not the world of today (or tomorrow) and what was acceptable 10, 20, 30 years ago just isn’t anymore. As Kiwi’s we might have to accept that our “right” to camp free might no longer be possible as our own population grows nevermind all the tourists. The kneejerk reaction talking about all the hunters etc that camp free also being victims of any legislation to cope with freedom camping we both believe to be a smokescreen. Hunters roaming the backcountry is a different scenario, and even if legislation against car camping encaptures them, I don’t for a minute think enforcement is likely to be funded to catch hunters in the act of free camping.
The Hon Eugenie Sage, and the Hon Nanaia Mahuta both made an appearance to open the Symposium. They commented on Government’s eagerness to work with local Government. Nanaia told the story of her recent brief venture in the world of Freedom Camping with her family to gain more understanding into the issues from both sides of the argument. It was pleasing to see a willingness to “get her hands dirty” as it were to fully understand the issue.
Local TDC Regulatory Manager Adrian Humphries gave the most entertaining perspective of the issue with his typically dry sense of humour. The most revelational discussion was from Adam Hutchison the creator of the CamperMate App, which is reputedly New Zealand’s most comprehensive database for Freedom Campers, and probably campers in general.
Adam gave an overview of the kinds of things that we can learn from the information gathered through the CamperMate App. It was a good reminder that privacy is something that you forgo if you partake in the digital world, although Adam explained that they don’t use personal information from users to the level that exists. CamperMate has a real-time map of where all the App users are at any given time. For those that already have the App loaded it can tell which Country the users come from immediately before entering NZ, what airport/port they land in and which one they depart from, and their next destination.
For tourists travelling NZ CamperMate amasses data showing travel trends of tourists as they traverse NZ. This can be broken down by Nationality (or at least by language preference on their phone settings – which suggests Nationality). It can tell the number of nights campers stay at any given spot in the country. It can quickly show new or emerging hotspots. It can show where infrastructure such as toilets might be lacking by the number of searches for toilets and the proximity to the search of any toilets. They claim to have the country’s largest toilet database!
Adam was demonstrating how they can work with Councils to make better use of this technology, a space that we have not yet begun to fully explore. CamperMate is an opportunity to communicate with Freedom campers like no other network. It can reach them in their own language and deliver news that they might not otherwise receive: such as with recent cyclones. When severe weather warnings were issued via CamperMate there was a noticeable movement of campers away from exposed coasts (remember they have real time tracking of all App users).
Many other possibilities exist. They have been trailing innovation such as public toilets that have a sign requesting donations that is linked to a scannable code. The revenue generated is distributed to the relevant local authority. Adam said indications are that tourists were willing to donate through such a system.
By comparing people’s travel habits and credit card usage it is possible to get a very accurate breakdown of the worth of travellers by age, sex, Nationality, and who knows what else. This is not something currently being explored (or exploited) but shows where technology is heading. It could be seen as a great opportunity to provide the best possible travel experience tailored to your demographic, or it could be seen as big brother out of control. I guess time will tell on that one.
The immediate future is one of LGNZ working with central Government to try and sort out what could become a potential international tourism disaster if NZ loses its friendly place to visit status as a result of locals taking out their frustrations in open or implied hostility toward foreign travellers. Or perhaps even worse, NZ makes global headlines after a disaster happens in one of these makeshift campgrounds that do not comply with the Campground Regulation Act that protects the health and safety of our own camps. This was the question I put to the symposium members:
In the event of a disaster how will we explain to overseas parents that we allowed their children to camp in substandard conditions in locations endorsed by Central and Local Governments?