Milford Sound, New Zealand
When I, and I imagine most people, think of mining, we think of enormous holes in the ground with colossal machinery lumbering like ants upon the devastation. Whether it be mountain top removal for coal, mineral extraction for precious metals or the grotesqueness of tar sand operations, we all have a clear idea of what it looks like in our understanding of this type of industry.
Mining is ripping “stuff” out of the earth. Isn’t it? By its very nature, mining is an extractive industry. It takes – extracts – some of that which was previously there.
But is that the only type of extractive industry?
When we call mining an extractive industry, we get a better idea of why mining for “stuff” is maybe not that different from many other things that our society does.
Think of when a giant cruise ship pulls up to a small coastal town or heritage city such as Venice and disgorges thousands of passengers. The sheer number of passengers arriving all at once can quickly and often does overwhelm many aspects of local community life and infrastructure. What the cruise ship company is doing is selling the experience of someone else’s culture, heritage and sometimes architecture to its passengers. There is no doubt that some in the local community will get a financial advantage from this visitation, but for many, all those visiting people will be an invasion of their private space.
You could say that this was an extractive experience for many of the local people as the visitors’ sought to extract that which was unique to that destination.
A similar analogy type could be used when viewing heavy visitation to natural wonders, such as our own Milford Sound. At what point does the number of people visiting, pre-Covid, 80 buses plus cars, helicopters and planes per day, become extractive? At what point does this sheer number of people extract the value from the wonder and beauty of such a place?
Stewardship is the careful and responsible management of something which is entrusted to one’s care. In te reo Maori, the word kaitiakitanga would encapsulate stewardship, especially when talking about care of the natural world.
I think that this concept of stewardship is something that the tourism industry as a whole must pay more than lip service to, and the Sustainability Charter from Tourism Industry Aotearoa is an example of trying to do more in this direction.
However, is 80 buses a day into Milford Sound an example of good stewardship?
Is the continued growth of visitor arrivals that can often overwhelm small communities a good example of stewardship?
What would be good stewardship?
Good stewardship would need sensitivity.
Good stewardship needs to ask at what point does the number of people visiting a destination negatively influence local people, local wildlife, and the landscape itself.
However, looking at the problem from the standpoint above is underwhelming at best. It basically says let’s go hard up until the point where negative impacts can occur.
As we reimagine tourism in the future, surely a better approach has to be how can tourism bring life to communities? How can tourism aid the restoration of unique places? How can tourism help preserve natural wonders, so that future generations can also stand and gaze upon them in wonder and awe?
Can tourism overall, change from being extractive to exhibiting itself as a good steward? To do this will require real change, as much as in how we think as in how the industry operates.