Labour unveils $25 tourist tax plan

Labour wants to tax all overseas visitors to fund a proposed Tourism and Conservation Fund.

Labour has promised to invest $75 million a year in a Tourism and Conservation Fund,” which it says will support the tourism economy and will be paid by charging all tourists a $25 levy.

Labour’s tourism spokesman Kris Faafoi says it’s time for the government to help ensure New Zealand delivers a world-class experience to tourists, “without unfairly burdening local communities.”

Some 60% of the fund, ($45 million a year) will be used for growing the tourism industry and will be split between funding tourism infrastructure projects ($27 million a year), training ($9 million a year) and supporting high demand areas like Queenstown ($9 million a year).

The remaining 40% ($30 million a year) will be used to protect New Zealand’s biodiversity and ensure conservation is properly resourced.

Mr Faafoi says it’s “only fair” the cost of these important projects is recouped from the international visitors that enjoy them.

“There’s no evidence that a levy of less than 1% of what the average tourist spends in New Zealand will hurt tourism," he says.

"In fact, after National introduced a $22 border charge, passenger numbers rose faster than expected.”

Excluding New Zealand citizens and residents, three million people visited New Zealand last year, meaning a $25 Tourism and Conservation Infrastructure Fund levy will raise $75 million a year, Mr Faafoi says.

“With international visitor numbers projected to grow each year by 5%, or more than 150,000, this approach means funding will automatically be created to meet the growing need.”

Tourism boom not going away
Labour’s policy follows new initiatives National plans to roll out if re-elected.

On Friday, Conservation Minister Maggie Barry outlined the party’s plan to double what tourists will pay to go on five of New Zealand’s most popular Great Walks.

This, as well as closing loopholes which have seen international school parties book huts without paying, will bring in an extra $5.4 million a year for the Department of Conservation (DoC).

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts says this is not a tourist tax; it’s a form of “user pays” which his group is in favour of.

He says at the moment, DoC is operating the tracks at a loss which makes little sense.

Another tourism related policy National rolled out was its plan to crack down on freedom campers.

Tourism Minister Paula Bennett revealed on Sunday the government will introduce “tougher and more consistent” freedom camping rules, which will protect public spaces while cracking down on “poor behaviour.”

This includes restricting all non-self-contained vehicles to areas that are within walking distance – about 200 metres – of toilet facilities.

Despite these two policies targeting international visitors, Mr Roberts does not think National is coming down too hard on tourists.

He says all major parties need to focus on ensuring New Zealand has “everything in place to provide the best possible experience for tourists and look after the interests of our local community.

“Every indication is there is going to be no slowdown in the world wide tourism boom and New Zealand is just part of that,” he says.

“We can expect increased tourism, we as a country just need to be ready for that.”

Yet 'another tax'

National Party campaign chairman Steven Joyce described Labour’s policy as light on details but would likely slow down the New Zealand economy.

“Labour’s new tourism tax is on top of their regional fuel tax, their water tax, their capital gains tax, and their plan to cancel the tax threshold changes. That’s five more taxes before we even get to sugar tax and land taxes," he said in a statement. 

“And once again Labour are very light on the details. They say it would be linked to the Border Clearance Levy but that’s paid by everyone that crosses the border.”

Mr Joyce asks whether Labour would need to set up another bureaucracy to identify the visitors from everyone else.

“Or maybe a working group to work it out?”

“New Zealand’s tourism industry operates in a competitive world environment. We are just 0.3 per cent of world tourism so we need to be careful about our cost structure. Already the latest international survey says visitors see us as a high-cost destination.” 

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