Govt ‘short sighted’ over tourism tax

Govt ‘short sighted’ over tourism tax

Minister of Tourism Paula Bennett has come out saying she’s ‘not a big fan’ of taxing visitors to New Zealand, saying we are ‘really expensive’ to visit. Bennett made the statement when speaking on TVNZ’s Q&A over the weekend.

The Green Party has hit back, saying it is ‘irresponsible’ of Bennett to dismiss a tourist levy to help pay for infrastructure and conservation.

‘The whole country benefits from tourism, but it's ratepayers in areas like the Mackenzie Country, West Coast, and the Queenstown-Lakes District who foot the bill for the infrastructure that supports the industry,’ says Green Party co-leader James Shaw.

‘A tourist levy would fix that.’

Shaw says a tourist levy would not be a deterrent to visitors. ‘Even with a $14-$18 levy for international visitors only, as the Green Party proposed last year, New Zealand border fees would still be lower than our closest competitor Australia, and places like the UK.’

Shaw says tourist numbers grew by a million people in the last seven years. In the next five years, this is forecast to increase by another 1 million. ‘Our infrastructure simply isn’t keeping up,’ he says.

‘The tourism industry says that we need to invest around $100 to $150 million annually on tourism infrastructure, yet last year the Government spent just $3 million.’

Meanwhile, United Future leader Peter Dunne says a failure to introduce an overseas visitor levy to help fund conservation infrastructure would be ‘short-sighted and disappointing.’

‘It is disappointing to see a recent change in messaging to say that New Zealand already costs too much when former Prime Minister John Key was making much more positive public comments about such a policy in November,’ Dunne explains.

‘This is about looking to the future and ensuring we have a conservation estate that is funded to a level that means it can continue to attract the overseas attention it does, bring tourists into our country and maintain its outstanding reputation without shifting that costs exclusively to the New Zealand taxpayer,' he says.

However, Tourism Industry Aotearoa says the Government would be right to rule out a tourist tax.

‘The Government is right to rule out another ‘tourist tax’ charged at the border, recognising the billions of dollars international visitors already inject into the New Zealand economy,’ explains Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts.

‘Supporters of additional tourist taxes are ignoring the fact that the economic benefits overseas visitors deliver to New Zealand far outweigh the costs we incur in hosting them,’ he says.

‘It is very easy to focus on the pressures that come with growth, but tourism is now New Zealand’s biggest export earner by some considerable distance, and international visitors are more than paying their way.’

Roberts says the tourism industry’s value to the country is increasing significantly with international visitors spending $14.5 billion last year, up from $9.9 billion three years earlier.

He says the Government accepts that one of the many benefits of the tourism boom is the significantly increased tax take it is enjoying as a result.

‘The GST take alone from international visitors has jumped from $750 million in 2013 to $1.15 billion last year,’ he says. ‘In addition, the new border levy of $22 per passenger that came into force in January 2016 is netting the Government millions in additional revenue, over and above what was forecast, thanks to record visitor arrivals.’

Roberts cautions that advocates of new tourist taxes need to remember that Kiwi travellers would also pay them.

‘While taxing visitors isn’t the answer, the Government does need to assist in providing better infrastructure around the country, and TIA is hopeful of a significant announcement in the May Budget,’ Roberts adds.

“We have been working with central government, local government and industry to identify and prioritise regional infrastructure needs,’ he says. ‘By investing back into infrastructure, we can ensure that communities across the country are coping and benefitting from the tourism boom and visitors continue to get an outstanding experience.’