27 Sep 2018

Tourism levy gets green light but will it make a difference for regions?

1:52 pm on 27 September 2018

Kaikōura District Mayor is skeptical whether a national tourism levy will make a difference for regional communities.

Backpacker in Wellington.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis has announced the International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy has been approved by Cabinet.

Visitors will each pay $35 through visa fees and the new electronic travel authority under the proposed levy.

It is expected to raise an estimated $80 million a year for tourism infrastructure and conservation projects.

Mayor Winston Gray said the levy was a start, but did not seem sufficient to cover the growing cost of tourism on locals ratepayers.

"The total amount is the worry. It seems to be a lot of work for a small amount of money," Mr Gray said.

"How does that get to a place like Kaikōura? And how much of it is filtered away on the way through?"

He estimated the council could spend more than $1m overnight fixing and upgrading tourism infrastructure in the area.

"It's a large drain on us as a council to do that, we just can not do it."

Mr Gray said the levy was not enough and regions should look into implementing their own tourism levies to help fund infrastructure.

About 2.3 million of the country's annual 3.8 million annual international visitors will be required to pay the $35 levy.

Australian citizens, permanent residents and people from many Pacific Island countries will be exempt.

Mr Davis said the funds would likely be split evenly between tourism infrastructure and conservation projects.

"This levy will provide sustainable funding so as a country we can better respond to the challenges and opportunities of tourism growth," Mr Davis said.

Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA) chief executive Chris Roberts said it was critical the levy was used to make a demonstrable difference to visitors

"TIA is pleased that the government has accepted two of its recommendations: that the international visitor levy is set at $35 per person - the upper limit proposed in the consultation process - and that the rate is not changed for five years, to offer certainty to international visitors and the tourism industry," Mr Roberts said.

"We welcome the government's commitment that the new funding is to be ringfenced and that it is additional funding, not a replacement for existing government expenditure."

Mr Roberts said the tourism industry was booming with new jobs and business opportunities.

"But the pace of growth has also exposed decades of under-investment in infrastructure by central and local government."

The funds needed to be used wisely, he said.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said there was strong public support for the levy and setting the fee at $35.

"The money raised through the levy will help improve the protection and enhancement of New Zealand's distinctive natural environment and improve tourism planning," Ms Sage said.

"The chance to enjoy Aotearoa's spectacular landscapes and nature are a major reason international visitors come to our country."

The legislation is expected to pass and be implemented next year.

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