OPINION: The "100% Pure New Zealand" marketing campaign that sells our country to the world has been running for a long time – since 1999.
It works because it is a piece of puffery – everyone knows that New Zealand is not a 100 per cent pristine environment, but the slogan succinctly sums up the sort of experience that visitors and tourists might want and expect.
Add a flourish – "100% Pure Adrenaline" or "100% Pure Welcome" – and the campaign can be targeted at thrill-seekers or people who are attracted by Kiwis' deserved reputation for friendliness. Even the variation "100% Pure Middle Earth" has been used to attract fans of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films.
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The latest iteration is a much-watched Tourism NZ video, which is everything you would expect. From marae to mountain, glacier to waterfall and to empty beach, a young couple explore their big Kiwi adventure.
There are no jarring notes – until the woman stands in a river and cups her hands to drink the water. The video cuts away before the water reaches her mouth, but the undeniable suggestion is that the water is safe to drink.
Probably not. Studies by different agencies have shown that many monitored river sites – even in natural areas of native forest – have E coli levels too high for safe swimming, let alone drinking. In some places, such as the Abel Tasman National Park, there is also a risk from the parasite giardia.
In recent years, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has repeatedly warned about the declining quality of rivers, streams and lakes, largely because of pollution from the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus. The biggest source of nitrogen is urine from farm animals.
The water which the woman appears to drink in the Tourism NZ advertisement is from the Blue Pools at Haast, which are close to the water's alpine source and unlikely to cause her problems.
There is irony in that council-supplied tap water on the West Coast often fails to meet standards. If the holidaying couple portrayed in the video were staying on the Coast, they may well be subject to a boil water notice back at their accommodation.
Tourism now surpasses dairy farming as New Zealand's biggest export earner, partly because of the success of the "100% Pure" branding. Both industries place stresses on the environment, which must be managed. In tourism's case, striving to attract more and more visitors comes with the responsibility to deal with the resulting pressures on the environment and infrastructure.
New Zealand is sold to the world as being an unspoiled scenic wonderland, but it is not always clean and green. Perhaps it is now too green in places, given the number of former swimming spots which are choked with nutrient-fuelled weeds or fouled by algal blooms.
Water quality is a difficult and complicated issue, requiring a sustained, even multi-generational effort from the Government, local authorities, farming and business interests and environmental groups all working together.
That requires admitting there are significant problems to begin with. It goes against that grain to keep telling people overseas we are 100 per cent pure and suggesting it is just fine for them to cup their hands and drink the water.