2 Mar 2022

Stewart Island/Rakiura: Community board backs doubling of visitor levy, but not triple

11:45 am on 2 March 2022

Plans to potentially treble the Stewart Island visitor levy are back on the table after a similar proposal prompted public outcry in 2018.

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Stewart Island/Rakiura has roughly 500 ratepayers, but receives about 38,700 visitors every year. (File image) Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

The $5 levy has not changed since coming into effect in 2013.

It is aimed at easing the burden of tourism on the community by providing funding for better services and facilities, but it will not be enough to cover future costs.

Each year, Rakiura swells with visitors seeking glowing skies, tramping adventures, and an escape to a beautiful and remote island.

It has roughly 500 ratepayers, but received about 38,700 visitors every year.

Figures from Southland District Council suggested that an average of $1.2 million per year would be needed to fund visitor-related activities, with the total cost projected to be just under $10m over the next eight years.

The current Stewart Island visitor levy only collects about $168,000 per year.

It has prompted a council proposal to increase the levy threefold to $15.

Roel Jaeger managed the Bay Motel and Kaka Retreat, and said an increase was inevitable.

"We can't keep funding going ourselves. We're too small a community. I'm good with either the $15 or a slight increase from that."

Angela Karaitiana from guiding business, Beaks and Feathers, did not want to see the levy treble.

"Fifteen dollars is quite a big jump, mainly for the fact that it's quite expensive to get here to start off with so if you are tagging another $10 on top of what was $5, it seems to be a bit excessive.

"Maybe you can put it up to $10 and then in a few years' time put it up again to $15.

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The council hopes to balance the funding required for visitor-related activities with the levy visitors are charged. (File image) Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

The council said a $15 levy would balance the cost of future projects and their impact on ratepayers without deterring visitors.

While a Southland District Council committee backed the proposal, the local community board did not want the levy bumped above $10.

The sole councillor for the Stewart Island, Bruce Ford, backed the local board.

"And we certainly have some community acceptance for that so I believe that would create the least displeasure, and whilst some of the numbers go to a different level, that would allay many, many concerns around the community."

Councillor John Douglas said the council needed to listen to the community.

"They were aware of what that would mean in reduced capital works so they fully understand the implications of a lower levy."

Councillor Paul Duffy wanted to ensure the consultation was flexible.

"So if we go out and consult on $15 and $15 doesn't fly, are we then left with $5 or have we got the ability to go with $10 then?

"Which is like last time, we have three more years of the current inadequate amount."

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The draft visitor levy policy and bylaw will go out for consultation next week after getting a green light from the council. (File image) Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Council senior policy analyst Carrie Williams said there was some flexibility.

"There is the ability for council to choose between 15, 10, five, anything in between. It starts getting a bit grey if we want to vary significantly outside that.

"And I just wanted to add on that that also applies to if council decides it would like to introduce any material changes to how it's distributed. If we don't consult on that, it won't be open to council to do that."

The draft visitor levy policy and bylaw, including the proposed $15 fee, will go out for consultation next week after getting a green light from the council.

Consultation on the draft visitor levy policy including the proposed $15 fee started on 1 March after getting a green light from the council.

If adopted, the fee rise would not take effect until October next year.

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