25 Sep 2018

Fears tripling visitor levy could damage island's tourism

8:10 pm on 25 September 2018

A proposed increase to Stewart Island's visitor levy is expected to provoke heated debate when it goes to public consultation next month.

The Southland District Council voted to consult on whether to triple the levy as part of a bylaw and policy review at a meeting this morning.

Stewart Island aka Rakiura, the third largest island in the country. Oban, view across,Golden Bay.

Stewart Island residents are encouraged to have their say on the proposal. Photo: 123rf

The proposal to increase the levy from $5 to $15 has been unpopular as residents express concerns the move could deter people from visiting the island.

Southland District Mayor Gary Tong said he had not ruled out changes to the levy, saying nothing was set in stone.

The levy increase was envisaged as a strategic move to help the island upgrade its tourism infrastructure, including its wharves, Mr Tong said.

More than $750,000 has been collected since it was introduced in 2013. From June 2017 to the same month this year, $193,143 was collected.

The fee would need to be increased to $10 to help cover repair and upgrade costs for the wharves and jetties alone and that amount would not cover other infrastructure costs, he said.

With a population of 400 residents, Mr Tong said the community was unlikely to meet the increasing tourist demands.

"The island needs to actually realise that they probably can't do it on their own," he said.

He encouraged the public to have their say on the proposal.

Only councillor Bruce Ford, who represents the Stewart Island Rakiura Ward, did not support the increase at the meeting.

The public will be consulted on the changes in early October before a hearing in November.