The Earth race is on: Queenstown Lakes commits to decarbonizing tourism by 2030

David Archer

24 November 2022

“The world is looking for leadership, and that’s coming from Queenstown Lakes.”

Our team has some exciting news to share with you. It’s about a project with the potential to change travel for the good of both people and the planet – one that we believe will have ripple effects across Aotearoa New Zealand and the world.

Destination Queenstown, Lake Wānaka Tourism, and Queenstown Lakes District Council have just announced an ambitious goal that is now the district’s north star: to decarbonize tourism and reach carbon zero by 2030. This commitment follows an extensive stakeholder engagement process and the presentation of a regenerative tourism plan called Travel to a thriving future. Reaching carbon zero means eliminating greenhouse gas emissions, primarily by reducing the use of fossil fuels. From the announcement:

“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.”  

The decision will be transformational because of its clarity of purpose, its courage, and its tight timeframe to address climate change head-on. It is the first of its kind among destination management organizations (DMOs). The destination is following current scientific guidance, including recommendations from the Oxford Principles that define the complete scope of emissions reduction and best practices for achieving decarbonization. 

The simple goal of reaching carbon zero by 2030 has inspired a united effort to confront the biggest elephant in the room for the travel industry – Scope 3 carbon emissions from transportation, including ground transport and international aviation. And Queenstown Lakes has the political will to get there. 

“This community has the courage to lead. They are committed to transformation,” says Destination Think CEO Rodney Payne, who was on site to present this goal along with the new regenerative tourism plan. “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 impact of this commitment stems from its community-wide support. It comes out of a public engagement process that received many forms of input to ensure the values and vision of residents, including iwi (Māori communities) are represented. The carbon zero goal is backed by the mayor, Destination Queenstown, Lake Wānaka Tourism, the Queenstown Airport, Kāi Tahu, and major tourism operators including NZSki. 

Queenstown Lakes District Mayor, Glyn Lewers expressed his support: “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.”

Systems changes in Queenstown Lakes’ visitor economy will have far-reaching effects across business sectors and neighbouring places. In 2019, tourism was the largest sector of Aotearoa New Zealand’s economy. Queenstown Lakes is one of its most-visited districts and is heavily dependent on international tourism. 

Our team at Destination Think has worked alongside the Queenstown Lakes partnership to develop and communicate the partnership’s goal of reaching carbon zero by 2030, and we wholeheartedly support this effort. We look forward to sharing more about the district’s regenerative tourism plan and the resulting actions when it is released.

There are 2958 days and counting. Which destination will be next to join the race to decarbonize?

Read the full announcement from Queenstown Lakes here.

Feature image provided by Destination Queenstown.

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