Support for levy, but 'devil in detail'

The levy could go towards relieving pressure spots that are always overwhelmed by visitor numbers...
The levy could go towards relieving pressure spots that are always overwhelmed by visitor numbers, such as Milford Sound, tourism industry boss Chris Roberts says.Photo: Daisy Hudson/ODT

Tourism operators are generally supportive of a new $35 tax on every international visitor, even in light of Government advice that it could mean 20,000 tourists spending up to $70 million elsewhere.

Chris Roberts. Photo: ODT files
Chris Roberts. Photo: ODT files

But the industry wants to ensure the $80 million a year from the international visitor levy goes towards worthy projects, otherwise it will just be seen as an unnecessary tax grab.

The Government wants a law change in place so foreign visitors will start paying the levy and an electronic travel authority (ETA) fee of between $9 and $12.50 by the second half of this year.

Most foreign visitors - but not citizens of Australia and several Pacific nations, or ship and air crew - will have to pay the $35 levy.

The ETA will mean visitors from countries that have a visa-waiver agreement with New Zealand - including the United Kingdom, United States and European countries - will also have to pay an additional fee and go online to get permission to travel here before arriving.

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts said the industry supported the new taxes - as long as the money was spent wisely.

"The devil will be in the detail.

"What is the money going to be spent on? Will it improve the visitor experience? Because we are asking people to pay before they come here.''

He said the tourism industry was not too concerned about official advice that the levy could result in 20,000 fewer tourists to New Zealand each year spending up to $70 million in a different country.

"There are bigger trends - exchange rates and fuel prices - that have a far bigger impact on tourism growth.

"No-one's ever happy to lose a visitor we wouldn't have otherwise, but we're not hearing too much concern about putting people off visiting.''

If the tax was just seen as a tax grab, some visitors might choose to go somewhere else, he said.

"If we explain why we are collecting the money and what we intend to do with it, I think visitors will be happy to pay it.''

Mr Roberts said the main concern in the industry was how "complex and clumsy'' the collection mechanism might be, and how well the change is publicised.

"This is a major change for visitors from traditional markets like the UK, Europe, and the US, who have always been able to hop on a plane and fly to New Zealand.

"They will need to have gone online first and got permission to come here, and paid their money. That will require a major PR campaign.''

National tourism spokesman Todd McClay has called the tax unnecessary, saying the Government already collects $3.27 billion a year in international tourism-related revenue, according to a Deloitte report.

Mr Roberts said injecting the money from the tax into bigger projects would be better than a "lolly scramble'' of several handouts of small amounts.

It could, for example, go towards relieving pressure spots that are always overwhelmed by visitor numbers, such as Milford Sound, Punakaiki, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing or Cathedral Cove's Hot Water Beach.

The Government wants the money from the levy to be split 50/50 between conservation and tourism infrastructure.

The fund will complement the Tourism Infrastructure Fund, which pays for smaller items such as car parks and toilets, and the Provincial Growth Fund, which looks to boost, among other things, tourism in the regions.

Mr Roberts said the Government benefited from a booming tourism sector, adding that spending from tourists added an extra $148 million in GST to the Government in 2018.


Milk the cow while you can. I am sure that the extra taxes will be spent mostly (as with most tax grabs) on computer systems, reporting and back-office administration with a minority of the taxes trickling down to where it is needed.





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