Aversion to visitor levy puzzling: mayor

Water test results from central venues in the town have so far come back clear but...
Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Glyn Lewers. Photo: RNZ
Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Glyn Lewers is scratching his head over the National-led coalition government’s apparent aversion to a visitor levy, either locally or nationally.

Last week, Act New Zealand leader David Seymour added his voice to the chorus of government voices against the idea. Mr Seymour promoted Act’s GST-sharing scheme as a solution, in which councils would get half the GST from housing consenting back to pay for infrastructure.

Mr Lewers says while he is interested in that, and it would make a difference, "it only looks at growth in residents".

To the year ended September 19, 2023, though, the Queenstown Lakes district accounted for 11% of all guest nights in New Zealand, and 18% of all international guest nights; Queenstown accounted for 15% of all international guest nights.

Mr Lewers has been lobbying Tourism Minister Matt Doocey, in particular, for a levy.

Mr Lewers said there would be about $125 million extra in council coffers by now had a 2018 MartinJenkins study into a levy been actioned that same year.

Over the first 10 years, it was projected there would be an extra $1 billion of international visitor spend in the district.

"It’s a pretty small investment for a very large return," Mr Lewers said.

"We’ve got an idea, or a proposal, that could provide an extra $1b of international spend in New Zealand, just in Queenstown alone ... but yet they don’t want to acknowledge it.

"They want to use tourism to grow the economy, but they don’t want to invest in that growth."

The 2018 report listed three scenarios, based on investment over the following five years — the worst-case was "eroded", with no additional investment from a visitor levy.

Under that, the council still aimed to do minimum investment in water to meet peak demand and statutory quality levels in most areas.

"Well, we know from last year we didn’t meet that."

It planned minor changes to reduce congestion on some town centre arterial roads, which also had not been done.

A public transport hub was to have been developed in the town centre, which also had not occurred, nor had the planned increased parking capacity.

"These were key tourism-related investments that the visitor levy would create.

"[Our] tourism destination is getting undermined because of a lack of investment from a visitor levy."