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Tourism industry wants infrastructure improvement from proposed levy

Friday 15th June 2018

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Tourism industry bodies have responded to the government's proposed levy on international visitors positively - provided they benefit from the money raised.

This morning, immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway opened public consultation on the government's proposed tourist levy between $25 and $35 for some visitors, alongside plans to increase fees charged for immigration applications and the introduction of an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA), a security check to speed up border processing for visitors who don't need visas to come to New Zealand, such as the United Kingdom and United States.

The tourist levy would exclude visitors from Australia, which is New Zealand's biggest tourist market, and people from Pacific Islands Forum countries; children under 2 years old; and visitors travelling for business. Consultation is open until July 15, with final decisions are expected in September. The proposed tourist levy and immigration fee increases would come into effect in November while an ETA would be implemented from mid-2019.

The tourism industry was leery about the proposed levy before it was announced, with particular concerns about the prospect of airlines having to collect the fee from passengers. However, in statements today they were tentatively supportive.

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts said the industry wants to be part of the discussion on how the funds raised from the tourist levy, which the government has estimated at between $57 million and $80 million in the first year, are allocated. The government has suggested it be spent on tourism infrastructure and conservation, including visitor facilities on conservation land, conservation activity, and other tourism-related infrastructure.

"Our international visitors will be more accepting of being charged to come to New Zealand if they can clearly see it is going to support infrastructure and services that enhance their visit," Roberts said. "Our key priority with this new charge is ensuring the revenue is directed to where it can do the most good, relieving pressure on infrastructure and ensuring we continue to deliver outstanding visitor experiences."

The Tourism Export Council of New Zealand said most of its members support the levy "but only if it was invested back into the industry" and went toward improving tourism attractions and looking after New Zealand's conservation estate.

"Investment in our conservation estate and the tourism experience overall will go some way to deliver the iconic New Zealand holiday that is worth spending a little extra on," said TECNZ chief executive Judy Chen. "One seamless process of collection at point of entry is also a far better option than numerous and varying targeted rates put in place across the country by local councils, as we have started to see emerge. We look forward to further conversations with the government about how to best allocate and implement the fund for best return on investment."

National's tourism spokesman Todd McClay said the government "already has plenty of money available for new tourism infrastructure if it chooses to use it wisely" from the $5 billion future operating allowances increase it made in Budget 2018. 

"Thanks to Labour’s new tax, the cost for a family of four travelling here will jump by $166, taking into account the increases in both new international visitor levy and increased visa costs," McClay said. "New Zealand’s reputation as a fair destination are under threat from (Tourism Minister) Kelvin Davis’ vague and contradictory proposal to sock tourists with additional taxes.”

(BusinessDesk)

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