Saturday, February 27, 2016

Freeloading tourists deserve zero tolerance

(First published in the Nelson Mail and Manawatu Standard, February 24.)

We have a lot of pests in this country, almost all of them imported: wasps from Germany, possums from Australia, rabbits from Britain, fire ants from Argentina, carp from Asia.
To that list we can now add a more recent arrival: the so-called freedom camper.

Cheap international travel has brought this invasive species here. Until relatively recently, a round-the-world air fare was affordable only by the wealthy. These travellers tended to be older and had no interest in roughing it. The luxury B ’n’ B was more their style.
But budget air fares have seen the creation of a new growth sector in the tourism market. They’re recognisable by their bulging backpacks, dreadlocks and dog-eared copies of Lonely Planet.

Backpackers’ hostels, no-frills camper vans and cheap, rent-a-dent car hire companies have sprung up to cater to this new tourist. But for freedom campers – or perhaps we should call them freeloaders, because that’s really what they are – it seems that even backpackers’ hostels are too pricy.
They prefer to occupy beauty spots and urban carparks where they can squat for days on end at no cost.

Unfortunately, “squat” is what they often do, literally as well as figuratively. Human excrement in the undergrowth is a common calling card of the freedom camper, along with the general detritus that they leave wherever it falls.
Neither personal hygiene nor respect for the environment appear to be high on their priorities. It was no surprise to read last week that two young French males urinated out of the windows of their moving rental car because they were in a hurry to get to Milford Sound.

They were surprised to get a police warning and clearly thought it was a bit of a laugh. “We can’t understand why it’s such a big deal,” one said.
Having travelled in France and seen how freely the French urinate in public places (small wonder, considering the unspeakable state of most public toilets there), I can understand why they were taken aback. But they need to understand that we do things differently here.

From time to time I’ve seen freedom campers interviewed on TV, usually when residents or business owners start complaining that their neighbourhood has acquired the look of an unusually squalid gypsy encampment.
Invariably the freeloaders assume an air of injured innocence when confronted, and protest that it’s not they who have left the landscape littered with rubbish for the local council to clean up.

No, it’s always someone else. They piously tut-tut at the irresponsible behaviour of these mysterious “other” travellers who give them a bad name. I’m reminded of a child’s poem from 50 years ago called Mr Nobody, in which every act of mischief or carelessness was miraculously the fault of someone unknown.
Well, I don’t believe them. I suspect that the moment the TV crew departs, they smirk at the gullibility and tolerance of their New Zealand hosts.
One reason I’m not inclined to believe them is that I have often seen these same travellers in crowded airport terminals and on the Cook Strait ferries. I have seen the way they spread themselves out across several seats so they can sleep, while later arrivals have to find space on the floor.

Such behaviour speaks of an overwhelming sense of entitlement and an arrogant indifference toward others. They give the impression of being a pampered me-first generation, accustomed to thinking only of their own needs.
This isn’t necessarily unique to travellers from the other side of the world. I’ve observed similar self-centred behaviour in New Zealanders of the same age who appear to have been brought up with little regard for others. Noisy partying late at night in camping grounds (inane drinking songs are a favourite) is just one common example.

It was also no surprise to read last week of two female freedom campers hogging the facilities at Nelson’s Riverside Pool. They reportedly spread their belongings out across the seats in front of four showers, ignored a sign asking swimmers to be considerate with the length of their showers, shaved their legs, cut their toenails and washed their underwear in the handbasins.
By coincidence, the day before that story appeared, I stopped at a public toilet in the Wairarapa town of Featherston.

I noticed that the handicapped toilet was occupied by three people who were clearly busy doing something. At first I assumed them to be the cleaners, but on looking again I realised they were tourists doing their laundry.
Tough luck for any handicapped person who pulled up needing to go. He or she would have just had to wait.

I note that some councils, and even well-intentioned individuals, are indulging these freeloading tourists by providing facilities for them.
Do they deserve them? No. They obviously have enough money to fly around the world on an extended holiday. Why the hell should New Zealand ratepayers and taxpayers subsidise their travels? In effect, that’s what the freeloaders expect.

Yes, we should welcome tourists who treat our country with respect. That’s what this is all about. But we should show zero tolerance for those who don’t.


Vaughan said...

We had a freeloader traveller parked outside our place and he left his calling card as you describe.

But they are only part of the problem. Let's wind down the tourism industry a whole.

Big boosts in tourist numbers-- millions-- mean beautiful spots are now crowded, and down town areas are crammed with people who get in your way. They never interact with locals in any meaningful way.

Individual travellers should remain welcome, but not big groups.

hughvane said...

Once again you are 'right on', this time with your assessment of the freedom camper issue. Most are parasites. I wonder if you (and others) have noticed that in every liberal society there are always those who accuse others of unwarranted attacks, or 'demonising', of NZ's visitors. The great majority of those who stand up as apologists for them have little or nothing to do with them, but simply like to ride a fluffy cloud of self-righteousness and sanctimonious ordure.

Richard McGrath said...

Tragedy of the commons unfortunately, a good reason to privatise as much of New Zealand's real estate as possible.