Backcountry safety was not being taken seriously by central government and could hurt tourism, according to Land Search and Rescue.
LandSAR spokesperson Phil Melchior, of Wanaka, said the Tourism Ministry had put backcountry safety education in the too-hard-basket, fearing it could scare away tourists.
The organisation met Tourism Minister Damien O'Connor in April to discuss ways to promote safety, including in-flight messages.
"We got a lot of nice noises from the minister but when it came to following through it went very quickly into the too-hard-basket," he said.
Many tourists were simply unaware of the dangers, he said.
On Wednesday afternoon three American men were caught in waist-deep snow and low cloud on the 1748m Ben Lomond walk behind Queenstown.
The men were wearing jeans, with two muesli bars between them and little water.
A police search was called, but the group was found by an Estonian couple who led them to safety.
The tourists' behaviour was typically foolhardy, showing a lack of preparation, Mr Melchior said.
"They were fortunate that there is someone else there better prepared to get them home," he said.
"Things can get very serious quite quickly." In April an Israeli tourist died after wandering off the Routeburn Track near Glenorchy. Earlier this month, six Australian tourists were lost for a week in snowy mountains in Aoraki-Mount Cook National Park.
Geoff Wayatt, of Wanaka, helps police co-ordinate search and rescue missions. He said poor preparation could really hurt tourists' impression of the New Zealand.
"People walk the Routeburn Track in their jandals.
"Not all of them die but quite a few have a bad experience. It's not good for our tourism," he said.
Mr O'Connor said in an e-mail there was only a small group of tourists who put themselves in danger. "Government and industry have been working to co-ordinate messages ... to ensure visitors are aware of the risks," he said.
Source: Southland Daily Times