Lyttelton levy may hit cruise trade

A leaked document revealing Port Lyttelton plans to introduce a $5 passenger tax for every cruise ship passenger, could have major repercussions for the fast-growing industry.

The company is set to introduce a $4.95 levy for all embarking, disembarking and transiting cruise-ship passengers visiting the port from January 1.

Funds raised from introducing such a levy would help pay for an upgrade of cruise facilities.

"If no investment is to be made in additional berth facilities, we foresee that in the very near future a difficult decision will have to be made on whether or not Lyttelton Port will be able to continue to guarantee cruise vessels a priority berth," the document notes.

Lyttelton Port of Christchurch chief executive Peter Davie said he did not want to discuss the issue of the levy "in public", but did not deny such a tax was about to be introduced.

"We are having a discussion with a customer about future pricing," he said.

However, Port Otago has ruled out following Lyttelton's lead, as the company recognised the importance of cruise ships to the wider Dunedin economy, Port Otago chief executive Geoff Plunket said.

"We have no plans to introduce a similar charge."

Cruise ships contributed only 3% to the company's revenue - through pilot's fees and other services - but remained an important part of Port Otago's business.

It was too early to say if a tax levy on Christchurch would affect visits to Port Otago, as cruise ship companies completed their scheduling years in advance, he said.

Calls to Cruise New Zealand chief executive Craig Harris were not returned yesterday.

Tourism Dunedin chief executive Hamish Saxton said he was surprised by any move to introduce a levy, which could potentially curtail the fast-growing industry.

"It is a growing industry which has been very positive for destinations like Dunedin."

How cruise ship companies would react to the levy would be watched with interest, and it was a possibility the cruise ship companies would avoid Lyttelton altogether to avoid absorbing the increased cost, he said.

More than 86,000 cruise ship passengers visited Dunedin during the 2009-10 season, and this was forecast to increase to 133,000 in 2011-12.

In an unrelated move, Transport Minister Steven Joyce announced last month a reduction of almost $5 per passenger in the marine safety charges paid by cruise ship.

From October 1 this year, the charge will decrease from $8.29 to $3.30, as Maritime New Zealand has collected more money than it originally budgeted for due to the increase in cruise visits.



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