Research report

The cultural politics of climate change adaptation

An analysis of the New Zealand tourism sector

The New Zealand tourism sector rests on the state of our natural world. Yet this research finds that few in the sector consider climate change an immediate risk to their business. Short-term profit imperatives continue to take precedence over values such as sustainability, the latter which would guide business’ towards low-emissions operations.

While there is an awareness by some tourism operators of the impacts of climate change, such as shrinking glaciers and rising sea levels in coastal regions, there is little consideration of the potential for large-scale disruption of the industry in the near future. In the absence of a national policy on climate adaptation, individual tourism operators are adopting adaptation approaches that are often carbon intensive, such as using helicopters to reach the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, or generating artificial snow on ski-fields.

However, there is a greater awareness from Māori in the tourism sector about the impacts of climate change. Māori values of kaitiakitanga, whānaungatanga and whakapapa guide Māori tourism operators, like Waitomo Caves, resulting in more sustainable practices. Drawing on these Māori values, the tourism sector can shift away from prioritising profit towards more sustainable tourism operations, enabling adaptation approaches that are as good for the environment as they are for business.

I think tourism is about storytelling and introducing those stories relevant to Te Āo Māori, and Papa and Rangi is one way in which you can educate people about the environment and kaitiakitanga.

Waitomo Caves guide


Culture & climate change