Tourism tax may never be perfect, but something must be done to protect the industry

Tourism tax may never be perfect, but something must be done to protect the industry
HAMISH MCNEILLY/STUFF

Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis talks up a tourism levy while in Dunedin.

EDITORIAL: Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis says the last thing we want is for international tourists to leave New Zealand with a bad experience.

Speaking in reference to the pressure that the growing number of tourists is bringing to New Zealand and the mess caused by a lack of facilities, he is right.

But overflowing rubbish bins and dirty public toilets may not be what ruins the holiday.

There have been many reports of tourists overwhelming small towns with their waste.

ANDY JACKSON/STUFF

There have been many reports of tourists overwhelming small towns with their waste.

Davis knows that Kiwis are starting to view international visitors not only as contributor to the economy and a source of national pride, but as a creator of pollution and congestion.

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A survey released at the start of the year showed 40 per cent of respondents were concerned about the impact of international tourists.

The risk for the tourism industry, now arguably the largest in the New Zealand economy, is real.

If the population turns against visitors in a significant way it will be the lack of welcome which ruins the New Zealand experience.

The growing concern is no surprise. There have been many reports of tourists overwhelming small towns with their waste. With some conspicuous examples aside, this is usually because the country is ill prepared, not because the tourists  are irresponsible.

If we cannot cope now, the situation will not simply correct itself.

Visitor numbers are currently running at around 3.8 million a year, the best part of a million more than three years ago.

In just five years, if government forecasts are right, another million a year will be coming.

Towns once regarded as backwaters are experiencing visitor booms and more will in the future, so long as the goose which lays the golden egg is protected.

To do this, it is clear that New Zealand needs a marked increase in the level of funding for facilities. But who will pay? Or rather, how will they pay?

Davis has confirmed a visitor levy is coming, but ideas about how it will work need to be “socialised” with the industry.

The Tourism Industry of Aotearoa has fretted at the prospect of a visitor levy charged at the border, saying the situation may be unworkable.

A levy at the border may though, be the least bad option available.

Some commentators have mooted a bed tax, but this creates issues of fairness.

Much of the negative impact of tourism is showing up in areas where there is a high proportion of freedom camping, which would not be covered by a levy on hotels.

Why should an Australian couple on a short but expensive weekend in Wellington pay for the impact of a lack of toilets in Twizel?

A levy could be added on rental vehicles, but this too would miss some of the impact.

Trying to capture every individual sector would create a system of levies likely to be difficult and costly to administer.

Visitor levies are not without problems. Establishing who should not pay is critical because this should not simply be a tax on international travel.

But it is the tourism industry which stands to lose if the problems which are emerging are not sorted. If it has a better idea on how to solve the problem, speak up now or live with what Davis comes up with.

 – Stuff