Finance Minister Steven Joyce has all but ruled out a visitor levy in this year’s budget but indicated other sweeteners are on their way for small towns struggling to cope with large numbers of tourists.
Speaking to the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce Joyce said he had always been reluctant to impose a visitor levy because it can’t always be assumed that visitor numbers will continue growing at the same level.
“We are still a really small percentage of tourism worldwide and we’re also a pretty long flight from most of the world. So we are a relatively high cost destination in world terms.”
Some people would accept a drop in numbers but it became difficult when justifying investment in attractions, hotels, and accommodation, he said.
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However, there was a need to invest in infrastructure and to have a mechanism to make it happen.
“That’s why I think it is important that Government steps up because we do get the GST take of whatever it is that tourists spend here.
“Yes, we’ve got to spend more money on it.”
He would not make any announcements ahead of Budget Day on May 25 but said the Government understood tourism was one of the country’s biggest export earners. It was also possible private sector capital could be utilised.
“That will probably be something after the Budget Day we can talk about.”
His comments follow Tourism Minister Paula Bennett declaring she also does not support any form of tourist tax.
Undeterred, Chamber of Commerce chairman Charlie Phillips reminded Joyce of the difficulties Queenstown faced providing infrastructure for the two million tourists to arrive annually.
“We do look forward to your announcement around infrastructure and the visitor levy. We have 40,000 people here on an average day with 20,000 people paying for it so there’s a gap there we need to address,” he said.
Joyce talked at lengths about the $11 billion infrastructure package he announced earlier in the week, which includes significant road works.
Much was already underway and in some parts of New Zealand, including Queenstown, you couldn’t move for road cones, he said.
“I went out to have a look at the Kawarau Falls bridge – that was a mistake – and was 15 minutes late for a meeting with the mayor. But that’s often the case. Same in Auckland. The road cone manufacturers are doing great business as the investment you’re making seems to slow things down a bit before it speeds up again.”
Asked about freedom camping he said there was a need for regulation but it was difficult to do as there were many ways of getting around it.
“We made some changes initially and I haven’t got any final answers for you today but Minister Bennett and I have had conversations about what that might look like.
“It’s that challenge of maintaining the experience while ensuring that people pay their fair share for the facilities that they use.