The advent of jet passenger planes in the 1960s and then jumbo jets in the 1980s revolutionised New Zealand tourism. Distances seemed shorter, costs fell and more tourists made businesses more viable. New Zealanders’ experiences while travelling overseas led to higher expectations back home which benefited visitors.
The British Overseas Airways Corporation’s inaugural London–New Zealand flight in 1963 and Air New Zealand’s inaugural DC-8 flight from Los Angeles in 1965 marked the beginning of long-haul flights to New Zealand. Auckland international airport in Māngere was officially opened in 1966 and became New Zealand’s main link with the outside world. From 1970 wide-bodied DC-10s made flying faster and cheaper. They brought mass tourism to New Zealand, leading to an accommodation shortage. The government’s agreement to provide financial assistance for hotel construction resulted in the opening of the Intercontinental and South Pacific hotels in Auckland in 1968. Hotels in other tourist centres followed.
Rangitīaria Dennan was the most famous of a long line of Māori women guides in Rotorua. Confident and articulate, she enjoyed discussing political and racial issues with overseas visitors. Guide Rangi was irrepressible, refusing to bow to government advice that her comments on the colour bar in other countries might offend tourists.
The new ease of flying across the vast Pacific Ocean brought a surge of interest in a South Pacific ‘paradise’. To meet tourist expectations the government sought to restore Rotorua as the showpiece of Māori culture. The Māori Arts and Crafts Institute was set up by legislation in 1963 to preserve traditional carving skills and make high-quality souvenirs. Māori concert parties modernised their style and performed with more glitz and glamour. The local Māori community, however, resisted pressure to rebuild its housing to appeal to tourists.
Japanese tourists were valued because they tended to be high spenders. In 1973 a group of hunting enthusiasts brought so much cash into the country that the bank at Christchurch airport ran out of New Zealand currency when they converted it. Tourist businesses needed to adapt to Japanese tastes by flavouring food more strongly, and wrapping gifts elegantly and not ‘like a parcel of fish and chips’.1
The increasing number of tourists led operators and the government to acknowledge that scenery alone was not enough – tourists needed other things to do. In 1969 the government introduced loans for constructing tourist facilities. One of the first recipients was the Agrodome at Rotorua, which was based on a farm show in Seattle and the Wool Board’s show at Expo 1970 in Japan. It gave tourists a glimpse of New Zealand agriculture, was hugely popular, and set a precedent for other businesses celebrating life on the land. In 2008 the Agrodome won the annual tourism award for best visitor attraction.
New Zealand’s marketing had traditionally focused on Britain, Australia and the US. This changed in 1973 when the Tourist Department opened its first offices in non-English speaking countries, in Tokyo and Frankfurt. The number of high-spending Japanese tourists who took the ‘blue ribbon route’ from Auckland to Rotorua, Christchurch, Queenstown and Milford Sound rose steadily until the early 2000s.
Impacts of tourism
Tourism, like all industries, has its social and environmental impacts. In resort towns like Queenstown, escalating property values mean that house prices are out of reach of many of those working in the industry. It is likely that domestic and international tourists introduced and spread harmful organisms such as giardia and didymo in New Zealand waterways. Overcrowding can be an issue – the Milford, Routeburn and Abel Tasman walking tracks all have booking systems to limit daily numbers.
Most tourists have no experience of New Zealand’s changeable weather and rugged terrain, and they are increasingly represented in the tally of back-country fatalities. A number have also died in vehicle accidents caused by unfamiliarity with New Zealand road rules.