Local levy ‘only avenue’

SHARE

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult says degradation of the visitor experience in the Queenstown Lakes District is “imminent” and a form of localised funding is “now the only avenue” for the community.

The council’s submission on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE) proposed international visitor conservation and tourism levy said while it fundamentally supported the Government’s attempts to “define a package of funding tools” to subsidise tourism infrastructure, it did not believe that alone would meet the “quantum of challenge” the district faced.

Failure to address it would result a drop in the visitor experience and would have ramifications for the district’s international reputation, tourist industry and the wider economy.

The council was concerned the Productivity Commission’s inquiry on local government financing and funding arrangements would “take too long” and instead wanted “rapid, concurrent consideration” of the proposed international visitor levy with a law change to enable a “local visitor levy [bed tax]” for high-growth regions.

It was also keen to work with the Government on its development and suggested it could act as a “pilot test environment” ahead of national implementation.

The council’s submission said its recently adopted 10-year plan represented 161% of the programme forecast in 2015. Of the proposed budget, 33%, or $317million, was because of growth.

The district’s 26,000 ratepayers had an average rates increase of 6.89% this year, to increase by 3.4% over the next decade, subsidising, at present, 70,000 to 120,000 visitors a day.

“QLDC has a high-end reputation, but our average income is still $51,000 per annum compared to the national average of $59,000,” the submission said.

“Aggressive rate rises to fund tourism infrastructure will simply pressurise struggling families further and exacerbate social issues that are already starting to emerge.

“The quantum of the challenge far outweighs the ability of the existing rating model to respond.

“The risk to our taonga is very real and the degradation of our visitor experience imminent.”

In a statement, Mr Boult said the council had been “very clear” with the Government about its challenges and had formulated a detailed business case analysis, in conjunction with MBIE.

“We appreciate that presenting a strategic and fact-based case for funding visitor growth is quite a different proposition to funding communities to enable growth through targeted projects, but this is where our funding case must be considered in a more innovative way than standing in line for a contestable fund, in the case of the provincial growth fund, that is designed to induce growth rather than manage it.”