At its simplest, ‘social license to operate’ refers to the acceptance granted to a company or organisation, or in tourism’s case, industry by the community.
The concept of social license is closely related to the concept of sustainability and profit, people, and the planet and originally was applied to activities such as mining.
As New Zealand’s leading export industry, it is difficult to understand why tourism is struggling with social license to operate.
After all, billions of dollars are contributed to the economy annually and a small percentage of that is spent on tourism product (accommodation and activities) so a great deal is going to other beneficiaries and it employs either directly or indirectly 13.5 percent of people in work. However, only 78 percent of the population are happy with the level of tourism in New Zealand and support its growth. *
Why do we feel under attack? Why is the satisfaction level of New Zealanders only 78 percent and being identified as a goal by TIA to raise it to 90 percent by 2025?
Yes, we all know the horror stories of tourists who unwittingly drive dangerously, defecate in nature and have little regard as to where they leave their rubbish as do some New Zealanders.
Those who are free-loading around the country or staying in homes and apartments that would otherwise be used to accommodate our citizens are also causing discontent and as we face the issues around climate and our environment concern is expressed at the carbon being used to travel here and around our country.
Those in the industry are made to feel we have to justify the busy high streets, difficulty finding parking, waiting for a table in our favourite cafes, bars and restaurants and citizens bemoan the fact they need to queue for their coffee or the bathroom facilities when a bus load of tourists stop in the place they a plan an activity. But those facilities are there because they have tourists as customers.
Our population is not large enough to sustain all the amenities, facilities and infrastructure that we have.
We may need more for the tourists but at the same time we get to enjoy what has been provided and the choices that we have in cafes, bars and restaurants and facilities have grown exponentially.
As bed and breakfast owners we are well placed to build trust in our industry in our communities as we advise our guests on the ‘must dos’ in our regions, as well as the best places to eat, the best place to buy local product, get groceries, get fuel for the vehicle, go shopping for a special gift or outfit and where to find a dentist who will treat a broken tooth or a doctor or medical centre who can dress a wound or provide medication for an ailment. All of these that locals know so well and that are not set up just for the ‘tourist’ as a tourism provider or even considered as benefiting from tourism.
As hosts we also consume products produced by the locals in our accommodation when serving our guests and providing welcoming hospitality and we are well placed to educate our guests on how we care for not only them but also for our environment and each other.
We are in an ideal place to discuss the Tiaki Promise and our commitment to sustainability in our conversations with our guests.
We can tell the guests that it is important to:
- Protect nature and what as hosts we are doing to do so. Maybe that you have signed up for predator free and are actively trapping and poisoning possums. The possum story is intriguing for our overseas guests. “The best possum is a dead one whose fur is made into the lovely garment you can take home as a souvenir.”
- Drive carefully. We can easily share with them the safe driving literature available and have a page in our compendiums.
- Keep us clean. Most hosts invite guests to dispose of their rubbish responsibly by providing the facilities in our rooms and providing information on how you recycle and sort rubbish.
- Be prepared. Do you as hosts have emergencies supplies, do you explain the safety procedures for the emergencies most likely in your area?
- Show respect. We are multicultural and embrace the values of others. We are especially privileged to be able to share the culture and language of our indigenous people and decry those do not share our tolerance.
For accommodation providers it is beholden on us to commit to sustainability. It is all about kaitiakitanga, manaakitanga and whanaungatanga. Embrace them.