'Green tax' for travellers gains ground

9:37 am on 27 May 2016

As tourist numbers topple record upon record, there is growing support for a border tax or 'green levy' to cover the cost of hosting them.

Two young Dutch tourists sit on some wooden steps that lead to the clear blue/green water at Blue Spring, Putaruru

Dutch tourists at Blue Spring, Putaruru Photo: RNZ Insight/Teresa Cowie

In the next five years, the government predicts 4.5 million visitors will be wheeling their suitcases across the tarmac in search of a New Zealand adventure.

And as Insight has been finding out, there is hope a border tax could solve some of the problems caused by rapid tourism growth.

At the secluded Blue Spring near Putaruru, 21-year-old Dutch tourist Rinck Huitink said he loved New Zealand but its systems for how tourists disposed of rubbish were not up to scratch.

"My experience is that it's really hard to get rid of the rubbish. One DoC site you can actually get a big black bag to put some rubbish in that you pay $2 for, and that was a really good idea I think."

He adds he often had to drive around unfamiliar towns for up to 20 minutes looking for somewhere to take it.

In the Budget, the government confirmed it was allocating $12m over four years towards facilities, which would include toilets and rubbish bins, for smaller communities that are getting a lot of tourists.

The industry and some mayors have said this is a good start, but is not enough.

Auckland University of Technology tourism lecturer Simon Milne said New Zealand may want to look at some sort of tourist tax or green levy.

"Research shows that if you can show the visitor that yes you are paying a tax, but that tax is going back to protect the resources that you used while you're in the country, the environment, the culture etc, then they are much more willing and happy to pay that kind of money than if it's just going back into some sort of general government coffers."

Conservation lobby group Environmental Defence Society chief executive Gary Taylor said a tourist tax would help protect what he described as New Zealand's "natural capital".

And he did not think visitors would mind paying.

"I don't think it needs to be a huge amount. It could ramp up over time but it's quite clear that when people are coming here to see nature we need to change our way of thinking about investment in nature."

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts said a border tax was the wrong way to go.

"We're much more in favour of users pays and those who are contributing to the issue that crop up around the country are paying their contribution at that point."

"A businessman from Sydney, who's flying into Auckland once a month, he's not putting a load on our infrastructure so why would we slap him with visitor tax?"

Associate Tourism Minister Paula Bennett said a border tax was not part of the government's plan but she would be open to a discussion on it.

- You can hear more about the tensions around rapid tourism growth on Insight, after the 8am news on Sunday Morning, RNZ National.

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