NZ Adventure Tourism Review – “Companies Operate Carelessly”

Emily Jordan

The review of adventure tourism, instigated after the father of Emily Jordan called safety regulation in NZ third world, has yet to see the light of day.

Mr. Jordan wrote in a letter to Mr Key that he had spent 16 months investigating the way that extreme sports firms are regulated in New Zealand and was “appalled” at what he had found, he called for safety regulation of the industry, saying:

It is vital that more young people do not die in this way. It is a tragic, unnecessary waste and they leave many grieving people behind for whom life is forever changed. This situation is damaging New Zealand’s reputation worldwide...”

“The laws in place at the moment aren’t the right vehicle to be regulating this sort of activity and they are not being regulated in any case,” he said. “People are going to New Zealand and expecting that it will be regulated like a western country but that really isn’t the case.

There needs to be high quality and up-front checks on firms like this, but instead authorities only react when there is an incident.”

That last comment ties in well with the “ambulance at the bottom of he cliff” approach, talked about by some of the operators (see below)

The Press has managed to get hold of some of the submissions made to the panel that carried out the review and found submissions alleging that  regulation of the industry has allowed unsafe operators to behave carelessly and that operators are confused and unsure of which regulatory body to deal with.

Here’s what was written in The Press today

Adventure firms ‘run by seat of pants’, say critics


Last updated 05:00 06/07/2010

Some adventure tourism operators are running dangerous activities “by the seat of their pants“, Queenstown submitters to an industry review say.

The submissions, released to The Press by the Labour Department, show many in the industry are unhappy with the complex regulatory system which some allege has allowed companies to operate carelessly. The names of the submitters were deleted by the department, which cited privacy and prejudice concerns.

One submission claimed a number of operators did not meet minimum standards and ran their businesses “by the seat of their pants“. “Near-miss stories are the ones that do not reach the paper and often the customers are not aware of how close they came to an accident either,” the submission said.

“I have witnessed skippers in one company being dismissed over alcohol, and in another business the skipper hands out drinks on the trip home and is knocking them back himself.”

A theme among submitters was frustration with the levels of regulation for different activities, and confusion over which organisation to deal with. One submitter said regulatory bodies seemed to adopt an “ambulance at the bottom of the cliff” approach, and pursued a witch-hunt after an accident.

The review was ordered by Prime Minister John Key after he received a letter from British father Chris Jordan, whose daughter Emily died after a Queenstown river-boarding accident in 2008.  Jordan said he was not surprised to hear claims about dangerous operators.

There were plenty of excellent operators, but stronger penalties were needed to stamp out companies that did not meet safety standards, he said. “I would expect the good companies to be giving the bad companies a very hard time, because they all know who they are,” he said.

Mad Dog River Boarding owner Brad McLeod said he was not prepared to make assumptions about other adventure tourism companies. Many people had judged his company after the death of Emily Jordan without any idea of how the company worked, he said.

New Zealand Whitewater Boarding Association spokesman John Imhoff said the submissions echoed a general feeling in the industry. There was a lot of overlapping from regulatory bodies. An umbrella organisation that could tell a company what they needed to do would clear up confusion, he said. The industry had room for improvement, but it would be a shame if it was ruined by over-regulation and exorbitant costs, Imhoff said.

A spokesman for Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson said sub-standard operating conditions and confusion about regulation were the main issues identified in the review, which attracted 142 submissions. It is expected to go to the Cabinet in two weeks when the Prime Minister returns from Asia.

The Tourism Industry Association and Maritime New Zealand declined to comment.”

In June, at the manslaughter trial over the death of Catherine Peters at the Ballance Bridge swing, it was revealed that there were no required safety standards for bridge swinging in New Zealand. Furthermore there was no official safety guidance for Climbing Walls  in New Zealand at the time of a serious ‘accident’ at Ferg’s Rock and Kayak, Wellington in 2008, despite Britain having had guidance since 2001.

In May an Australian tourist,  Kirsty Moulder, was seriously injured when she slipped out of a bungy harness whilst doing a jump above the Wairau River, with the company Thrillseekers.

It’s about time the report was released and action taken, before any more people are killed or seriously injured participating in adventure sports in New Zealand. The longer it is held back the more it looks like the government is embarrassed about the findings.

Adventure Tourism in New Zealand

See also:

NZ Facts and Stats, Adventure tourism and safety

UK families form group to push for tougher extreme sports standards in New Zealand – families call for licensing system in New Zealand.