Struggling Queenstown hotel owners shocked visitor levy being considered [Stuff, 22/12/20]

Queenstown hotel owners are distressed to learn that a proposed bed tax is being considered by the tourism minister while they struggle to survive.

In a letter to Queenstown hotel operator Nik Kiddle​, new Tourism Minister Stuart Nash confirmed he had spoken to Queenstown Lakes District mayor Jim Boult about the proposed visitor levy, which Nash understood was put on hold due to Covid-19.

Nash believed visitors should be contributing to the cost of infrastructure, he said in the letter.

“My officials will continue discussions with the mayor about tools to achieve this and I encourage you to continue working with your local council on revenue options.”

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His words echoed a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Enterprise (MBIE) briefing paper that recommends greater use of user charges, targeted taxes and levies on visitors would help pay the costs of tourism.

Kiddle,​ who organised the Lakes District tax equity group to oppose the bed tax last year, said he was shocked.

He had written to Nash on behalf of 111 small and medium-sized accommodation businesses in Queenstown, Te Anau and West Coast with a plea for government help.

The response was “very distressing”, he said.

Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult with MP Stuart Nash, during Nash's first visit to Queenstown as Tourism Minister.
DEBBIE JAMIESON/STUFF: Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult with MP Stuart Nash, during Nash’s first visit to Queenstown as Tourism Minister.

“It’s extremely unfair for anyone to lift this spectre above our heads again. We’re on the ropes. We’ve got enough to fight for.”

Boult said accommodation providers should not panic as there was no plan to introduce a bill in the near future.

“I think everybody has plenty of other things on their plates to worry about. There will come a time to discuss it in the future but right now it’s on hold.”

It would resurface if the number of visitors to the Queenstown Lakes District returned to the high levels in the past, he said.

It had been planned that the bill would be introduced by local MP Hamish Walker, who was replaced by Joseph Mooney in the wake of Walker’s admission and subsequent apology over leaking private patient information to several media outlets.

Mooney thought it was too early to consider proceeding with the plans.

“The hoteliers and backpackers I’ve been talking to are doing everything they can to stay afloat, and we don’t have the visitors numbers that it was directed to addressing.

“Until borders are open I’d say it’s too early to look at that.”

However, he was open to discussing a levy in the future.

Early this year the Queenstown Lakes District Council was preparing to back a members bill in Parliament to introduce a 5 per cent levy on commercial visitor accommodation to help recover the costs of tourism on infrastructure in the district.

The proposal was dropped when Covid-19 struck and international borders were closed, leaving thousands of hotel beds empty and operators on the brink of financial ruin.

The MBIE paper released last week suggested looking at levies on visitors to help pay the costs of tourism.

The tourism industry acknowledged it needed to address issues of underinvestment in infrastructure and related issues of congestion and social licence, the paper said.

Many in the industry favoured funding by central and local governments rather than directly from visitors or tourism businesses but MBIE believed that was unsustainable and did not address the issue of over-consumption.

It suggested greater use of user charges for international visitors at Department of Conservation locations and services, local taxes, levies, and charges at destinations that were under particular pressure from visitor growth and looking to use the international visitor conservation and tourism levy (IVL) to relieve congestion at peak times.

Read this on the Stuff website here.

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