A population of tourists equivalent to our fourth-largest city was on the move every day around New Zealand, he told the Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science biosecurity risk seminar.
Most of the statistics show where tourists spend their nights but the biosecurity risks were more attached to where they spend their days.
A large proportion of visitors to Canterbury came by cruise ship and when those ships berthed at Akaroa day trips to a local farm were top of the agenda.
Buses also picked up tourists from Lyttelton and Christchurch for trips to high country stations.
Simmons also raised the possibility that virulent and communicable diseases might incubate in free and independent travellers until they reached rural districts with more limited medical facilities.
“Tourists are very important economically to the regions but they are also pest and disease vectors, threatening humans, animals or plants.”
Professor David Simmons
“Tourists are very important economically to the regions but they are also pest and disease vectors, threatening humans, animals or plants,” he said.
Tourism was our second-largest export earner after dairying but the interactions between tourism and agriculture were not presently well-studied.
“Tourism might be regarded as an ice-cream economy compared with hard graft on the farm but there are many links and dependencies.”
He recommended matching summer visitor patterns with biosecurity incursions to come up with more effective screening coupled with on-the-ground monitoring.
Other statistics were presented on camping tourists who, during the first five days were likely to visit regional centres such as Whangarei and Rotorua, perhaps with soil from their home countries or previous holiday destinations.
Tourism science could inform better biosecurity practice, he said.
Much better communication was required between tourism demographers and biosecurity risk analysers.
The 2001 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Britain did more damage to tourism earnings in Britain than to agriculture, notwithstanding the huge impact on farmers.
“Images of burning livestock coupled with the shut-down of tourist routes turned off huge numbers of visitors.
“Imagine the disruption FMD would cause to our tourism, wherever in the country the outbreak occurred,” he said.
Responding specifically to the concern raised over greater numbers of cruise ships coming to small harbours and disgorging tourists on to farms, a Cruise New Zealand director said any fear was unwarranted.
“It’s no different to you or I visiting farms around the country,” Environment Southland harbourmaster Kevin O’Sullivan said.
Many cruise passengers arrive by air before joining their ships, receiving the usual clearances.
Ships are required to go to a port for customs and quarantine, which in practice means the bigger ports of Auckland, Mt Maunganui and Lyttelton.
On the rare occasion that a ship makes Milford Sound the first port of call NZ officials travel onboard to perform their duties.