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DOC investigates giving Kiwis first dibs

Kiwi trampers could get preferential booking rights for bunks in Luxmore Hut, on the Kepler Great Walk. Photo: DOC/Creative Commons

New Zealanders could get first dibs on booking a bunk on the Great Walks, as DOC investigates a preferential booking system.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage has asked the department to investigate the feasibility of preferential booking for New Zealanders. Sage said she supported the idea, but wanted to see whether it would be technically possible before proceeding.

“Because the Great Walks sell-out so quickly, and a lot of people don’t plan their holidays until later in the year, I’ve asked the department to look into it,” Sage said. 

The idea has gained the support of Tourism Industry Aotearoa and Federated Mountain Clubs.

It comes after the Government announced that tourists would be charged double the rate of Kiwis on four Great Walks (the Milford, Routeburn, Kepler and Abel Tasman). The fee hike would be trialled for one season and could be extended to other Great Walks next year. 

About 60 per cent of people on Great Walks were from overseas and the most popular walks book out months in advance. However, the cost of managing the walks outstrips revenue by about $3.8m a year. The Heaphy Track ran the biggest deficit at $925,000 in 2016/17. Even the Milford Track didn’t bring in enough revenue to cover costs, running a deficit of $457,000. 

Sage said she wanted to see the walks move towards a break-even model and hoped the fee increase would also encourage walkers onto less popular tracks.

“If the trial is successful and we roll it out to the other Great Walks, it will be close to breaking even.”

Sage has also asked DOC to review how it makes money from conservation land. The department has been investigating a range of money-making schemes, including charging for parking at some popular sites. DOC has already set itself a target to nearly double income from concessions by 2026/27, going from $17m a year to $31m a year. 

It comes after Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis mooted charging access fees for DOC land. Davis told delegates at a tourism conference in May that free access to attractions on conservation land was a problem and the Government was looking at ways to ‘make people pay their way’ so DOC was more financially sustainable.

However, freedom of access was guaranteed under the National Parks Act and Sage said there was no intention to change that.