Waitaki: Going in circles

Visitors to the Ōamaru Blue Penguin Colony are helping to create a more sustainable tourism industry.

When the Ōamaru Blue Penguin Colony was established in 1992, five minutes away from the township, the mission was clear: to protect the penguins. Science and environmental manager Philippa Agnew feeds vital information into a global community dedicated to saving penguin species.

The growing number of penguins at the colony is a result of the research and conservation work done to reduce predators, eliminate human disturbance and provide nesting habitats. The breeding success of the world’s smallest penguins is amongst the highest recorded for the species.

The colony has a long-term monitoring programme that has been in place since its establishment. In addition, the colony fully funds its own research programme, where the monitoring data is analysed and further foraging ecology research is carried out.

Each visitor to the colony has played a part in this success story. And, in the future, it’s hoped visitors will play an even more important part in the story of the region’s sustainable tourism industry.

The government is looking to create a model where the tourism industry isn’t reliant on ratepayers bearing the costs of supporting tourism infrastructure and promotion, and where visitors give back. And the Waitaki District is showing that it can work.

Revenue from visitors to the penguin colony goes to supporting ongoing research and monitoring of the little blue penguins, as well as staffing, maintenance and pest control. Pre-COVID, when numbers were boosted by international visitors, this revenue also co-supported the functions of the regional tourism organisation.

The aim of this relationship is to work towards zero reliance on the local ratepayer and fully funding tourism marketing and promotion in the Waitaki. The region has been hugely impacted by the loss of international visitors but, with support from the government’s Tourism Recovery programmes, the tourism infrastructure has continue to operate in a scaled-back way. As visitor numbers grow and safe travel allows, this circular model will be grow until it reaches its goal in ten years.

Visitors are willing to do more to support the industry under this model, especially if they are made aware of how that contribution will go back into ensuring the environment and communities prosper and organisations such as regional tourism organisations are supported. In turn, tourism organisations ensure all elements of the tourism sector are managed, monitored and carefully developed for future visitors.

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