New Zealand gets tough on adventure tourism safety

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Unsafe adventure tourism operators will be shut down after the Government has completed a review of the multimillion- dollar industry.

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Unsafe adventure tourism operators will be shut down after the Government has completed a review of the multimillion- dollar industry.

Prime Minister John Key yesterday announced a review of risk management and safety practices in the sector.

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson will head the investigation, which will involve tourism operators, the Civil Aviation Authority, Maritime New Zealand and the Ministry of Tourism.

Tourism is a $20 billion industry in New Zealand, and adventure tourism is a growing market.

Several incidents have hit the industry.

Last month, Queenstown company Mad Dog River Boarding was fined $66,000 and ordered to pay $80,000 reparation to the family of English tourist Emily Jordan, who drowned beneath a rock in the Kawarau River while on a trip with the operator in April last year.

Jordan’s death came within a fortnight of an accident on a canyoning trip in the Mangatepopo Stream in Manawatu that claimed the lives of six students and their teacher from Elim College, in Auckland.

In March this year, Christchurch woman Catherine Peters died after she fell from a rope swing on Ballance Bridge near Palmerston North.

Key said that in light of the deaths and a “heartfelt” letter written to him by Jordan’s father, Chris, he had decided a review of the sector was needed.

Key, who is also Minister of Tourism, said the review would consider whether accidents were related to particular areas of the sector or operators and whether there were any common themes.

Asked if he believed there were “cowboys” in the sector, Key said: “That is possible in one or two cases, although I wouldn’t want to speculate.”

He said any unsafe operators uncovered during the review would be shut down.

“I need to make sure we are doing everything we can to preserve the reputation of the industry,” he said. “Tourism is critically important to New Zealand and we must do all we can to ensure visitor safety.”

Key said there would always be an element of risk for those who took part.

“But it’s also important that they are afforded the protection and care that we would expect to take place,” he said. “And in the case of one or two of these incidents, I’m just not absolutely satisfied that has been the case.”

The Institute of Professional Engineers has called for more regulation of the industry, saying fairground rides are more heavily policed than some adventure activities.

Tourism Industry Association advocacy manager Geoff Ensor said adventure tourism operators believed their businesses were safe but welcomed the review.

“We’ve been aware over the last few months that some questions are being asked.”

He said New Zealand’s adventure tourism industry was strong and had been built up over a long period, “but complacency is not an option”.

The development of more national regulations for all operators was a possibility, although the industry did not want “knee-jerk” legislation.

He said that while the industry could not guarantee risk-free adventure, it could promise it had done all that was fair and reasonable to protect tourists. “Our view is even one death is too many.”

Mad Dog owner Brad McLeod declined to comment yesterday, saying he wanted to digest Key’s comments.

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.