Queenstown Lakes announces intention to be first carbon zero tourism destination in the world 

NEWS 📰

The earth race starts today in the Queenstown Lakes, with the announcement by Mayor Glyn Lewers, of full commitment to decarbonising the tourism industry to carbon zero by 2030.

The announcement is off the back of the presentation of the revised regenerative tourism strategy for the district ‘Travel to a thriving future’.

The last week has been spent socialising the goal of a carbon zero visitor economy by 2030 with community, businesses, stakeholders, iwi partners and local government. The goal of carbon zero is carefully defined to include aviation, both flights into and from the district, and transport within the district. It is also firmly committed to removing carbon and not using offsetting as a solution.

Queenstown Lakes District Mayor, Glyn Lewers, said he was excited about the hugely ambitious goal, and that the support and enthusiasm from the wider community had provided the permission to start the journey.

“I’m emboldened by the collective response we have had from the community, Council, our airport and businesses – both large and small. We know it won’t be easy but everyone realises the need to urgently decarbonise. This is not only the right thing to do for our extraordinary environment and of course the planet, but also secures the future of tourism, our biggest industry. We see huge benefits in leading this on the global stage,” Mayor Lewers said.

International destination management expert Destination Think CEO Rodney Payne said being the first tourism destination in the world to commit to being carbon zero by 2030 is a major advantage.

“It starts to create momentum and build a market that gives investors’ confidence. We really don’t have a choice, right now as a civilization. We’re going to put our collective might around solving this massive existential problem and the time is now and the first mover advantage is massive. Queenstown Lakes has put their hand up to say we’re ready to be that testbed, we’re ready to be that first adopter of new innovations to achieve it. That builds a reputation for the place that is going to stimulate all kinds of economic growth and help diversify the economy as well as doing something that’s really powerful,” said Payne.

Destination Think has been in the district as part of the feedback process, helping review and refine the final stages of the destination management strategy, along with Destination Queenstown Chief Executive Mat Woods and Lake Wānaka Tourism Chief Executive Tim Barke. The strategy is a partnership between Destination Queenstown (DQ), Lake Wānaka Tourism (LWT), and the Queenstown Lakes District Council, with input from Kāi Tahu and the Department of Conservation.

The Queenstown Lakes regenerative tourism plan set out to ensure that tourism supports a thriving community both environmentally, socially, culturally and economically. As the plan had taken shape over the last 20 months, with wide-ranging feedback from the community, it had become clear that there is no regeneration without decarbonisation.

Rodney Payne said after working with tourism destinations all over the world, he was stunned at the way the carbon zero ambition had been received. “I never imagined that people would be so bold. I think the willingness of people to make change is the number one thing that we’ve consistently seen in every meeting in every conversation, even if that change is very, very difficult and confronting. The world is looking for leadership and that’s coming from Queenstown Lakes.”

The fact that Queenstown and Wānaka are geographically isolated made the change even more crucial.  Mayor Lewers said COVID-19 had shown the district how vulnerable it was in its existing model, but he had still been surprised at the reaction from tourism businesses. “This process has shown us just how many of our businesses are already well on the journey and adjusting the way they operate. Change is inevitable and they would rather be the leaders of that change.”

Following the support for this ambitions goal, ‘Travel to a thriving future’ will be further developed and will be publicly released before the end of 2022. It will be presented to Queenstown Lakes District councillors in February 2023.

Mayor Lewers said the momentum was growing quickly and the community had made it clear that the time for words was over and there was a desire for real action.

“Queenstown Lakes is setting off to show that the visitor economy can support regeneration and be a real force for good. I’m delighted to be kicking off the earth race in Queenstown Lakes and I encourage and look forward to other destinations joining us,” said Lewers

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