Tourist tax mooted for national parks

International tourists could be charged for access to the country's national parks.

A briefing to Tourism Minister John Key warns government policy coupled with increasing demand from international tourists could lead to "negative outcomes for New Zealanders". 

Those included congestion in national parks, more lower-value visitors, environmental degradation and inefficient infrastructure investment.

The briefing from the Ministry of Economic Development states access to major government-owned tourism assets was "often free or heavily subsidised".

"So, increasing demand from non-residents in such cases may not translate into value for New Zealand."

The briefing mentions "differential pricing" noting that posed challenges that needed to be worked through, but that it was used in many other places.

Under the heading "Capturing greater value from international visitors", the briefing warns of problems providing infrastructure in areas with small rating bases and very high tourism numbers.

Tourism Industry Association policy and research manager Simon Wallace warned any move to charge international visitors for accessing assets such as national parks was unlikely to be welcomed by the industry.

"There are a lot of tourism concessionaires operating in national parks who guide and host international visitors anyway, so international visitors are contributing by booking trips." He cited Department of Conservation research showing tourism concessions generated $51 million a year in Fiordland National Park, and a further $13 million in a flow-on effect for the Southland region.

Southland district Mayor Frana Cardno said "national parks are there for everyone", including international visitors.

"We are charging in lots of places. People are paying to walk the Milford Track."

Mrs Cardno said she supported a tax charged on arrival at international airports, which could pay for essential tourism infrastructure and alleviate the ratepayer burden for small tourism centres.

A spokeswoman for the Tourism Minister, Prime Minister John Key, confirmed officials were looking at the issue of regions with small rating bases and high tourism numbers "because of the infrastructure challenges they face".

"That work is ongoing, and the Prime Minister has not received any advice on the issue yet, and therefore has not formed a view."

Destination Queenstown chief executive Tony Everitt said the briefing paper was a discussion document that "was raising questions rather than giving answers".

"If the prime minister wants to take this forward, then those questions need to go to consultation, and from a Destination Queenstown point of view we would be very pleased to participate in such a consultation process."

Tourism Dunedin chief executive Hamish Saxton said getting a return on assets, including perhaps museums such as Te Papa and even cycle trails, was "a discussion worth having".

"Perhaps you have to ask yourself if these assets are a golden goose."

In the year ending March 2011, tourism contributed $9.7 billion in export earnings - 16.8% of New Zealand's total exports of goods and services.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright is expected to release a report this year on commercial use of conservation land.



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