New Zealand has always offered environmentally-aware tourists a golden opportunity but now the experience can be rated officially thanks to a growing group of tourism operators who are walking the talk.
The accommodation and activity specialists can now boast New Zealand''s top quality assurance rating making it possible for tourists to travel the length and breadth of the country sticking solely to businesses with Qualmark Enviro-Gold status.
The rating means the operators tick all the boxes for environmental performance and tourism quality assurance.
Qualmark Enviro-Gold is the top level in New Zealand''s Qualmark Green rating for performers in responsible tourism. There are also Enviro-Silver and Enviro-Bronze levels.
Qualmark Green is an extension of New Zealand''s Qualmark quality assurance scheme, a system introduced 15 years ago to help the country deliver on its ''100% Pure New Zealand'' promise. There are now over 2,150 Qualmark licence-holders throughout the country.
New Zealand is the first country in the world to have a fully integrated quality and environmental performance tourism assurance system.
Qualmark Green came into effect in August 2008, and all tourism businesses with a Qualmark rating are now assessed for environmental performance as part of their overall quality assessment.
Criteria include active participation in energy efficiency, waste management, water conservation, community activities and conservation management.
The Qualmark enviro status is a useful guide for visitors because it represents an operator''s environmental and social commitment as well as giving an indication of general quality.
Go for gold
New Zealand companies that have achieved Enviro-Gold status so far include luxury hotels, eco lodges and backpackers hostels throughout both islands as well as activity specialists like Dive Tutakaka (Northland), Rainbow Springs Nature Park / Kiwi Encounter (Rotorua), Farewell Spit Eco Tours (Nelson), Whale Watch Kaikoura, and Adventure tours (Christchurch).
Tourism New Zealand chief executive George Hickton says it is important for every tourism operator to get ''qualmarked" and aspire to getting the Enviro-Gold standard.
"It is good for the environment and local communities, good for their business and good for the industry," he said.
"The natural environment is the main reason people come to New Zealand and we need to protect it and deliver on the ''100% Pure New Zealand'' promise we make to our overseas visitors," said Hickton.
The Qualmark Green scheme has also been picked up by Japan and Asia''s largest travel agency, JTB which has formed an agreement with Tourism New Zealand and Air New Zealand.
JTB has developed a ''Royal Road'' itinerary using a theme of eco-luxury, and featuring Qualmark and Qualmark-Green accredited tourism operators in New Zealand.
The ''Royal Road'' tour includes a certified carbon-offset contribution for participants'' Air New Zealand travel. All customers also have a tree planted in their name at Mangarara station in Hawke''s Bay - as part of Air New Zealand''s Environmental Trust programme.
Fact file: Qualmark
- New Zealand''s official mark of quality for tourism
- owned by Tourism New Zealand and the New Zealand Automobile Association
- a quality assurance accreditation system, including accommodation star gradings, and an endorsement system for visitor transport, service and activities
- there are now over 2,150 Qualmark licence-holders
- Qualmark Green includes three levels of recognition for performers in responsible tourism - Qualmark Enviro-Gold, Enviro-Silver and Enviro-Bronze.
Air New Zealand initiatives
- Air New Zealand has a long-term goal to become the world''s most environmentally sustainable airline and is committed to taking a global leadership role in environmental issues.
- This initiative is one of many examples of Air New Zealand working locally in offshore markets to help develop long term sustainable tourism.