Thursday, August 26, 2010

Will Compulsory Registration Save Lives?

Prime Minister, John Key announced a review of risk management and safety practices of adventure tourism operators last year following the publicity of fatalities that occurred in a swing bridge operation last year and in a river boarding business the year prior. 

We see that the report has finally been released with the MSM playing up to the default sensationalist claims that the industry needs to be regulated in order to drum out "cowboy" tourism operators that are placing lives at risk. And of course it is assumed that regulation will protect our worldwide reputation as a safe haven for tourists to frolic without the fear of being sullied by mythical reckless tourism businesses.

So what were the report's main conclusions?
  • There does not appear to be a fundamental problem in the sector’s ability to develop appropriate safety systems 
  • However, there are gaps in the safety management framework which allow businesses to operate at different standards than those generally accepted 
  • While these gaps remain there is insufficient assurance that preventable accidents will not occur 
  • This situation could result in harm to individuals and their families and damage to New Zealand’s reputation as an international visitor destination.
Reading the report in context, adventure tourism operators are doing a good job and there is an excellent adherence to safety systems already in place. The industry has the ability to develop their own safety standards without legislation and the gaps between operational standards are not adequately identified as causing a high level of risk.

The report even states:
"...that people should not expect that all accidents in these sectors can be eliminated. Rather, it should be expected that all practicable efforts are made to effectively manage the risk and minimise accidents as much as possible."
The main threat would appear to be that companies could start up an adventure tourism business without checks or controls. Existing businesses are apparently OK, but there is a potential threat from an unidentified source.

You would think that the unqualified threat of industry regulation that is likely to impose a compulsory registration scheme with up-front and ongoing external safety audits financed by yet to be determined levies would mobilise the adventure tourism industry into calling out some of the report's unbalanced assumptions. 

Well no! Incredibly, according to media reports they are all for it!

Quick to give unqualified support were Destination Queenstown Board chairman Mark Quickfall and the Tourism Industry Association.

Last year The New Zealand Herald blog asked the question: "Does NZ's adventure tourism industry need more regulation?" Not surprisingly the usual state worshipers responded with calls to regulate, however they were in the minority. We were heartened that most respondents were well reasoned and were horrified at the prospect that NZ's Adventure Tourism could be turned into a sanitised Disney experience.

For the sake of New Zealand's tourism industry we hope that the adventure tourism operators are able to back themselves by finding their own reasoned voice. They should be rejecting the politically correct default position of surrendering themselves to regulation by proving that they are able to stand up for themselves and continue along the pathway of self-regulation.

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