National to review visitor levy policy

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New National Party leader Simon Bridges is promising to revisit his party’s visitor levy policy.

Bridges’ former National-led government, ousted six months ago, was firmly opposed to any sort of visitor levy, to the frustration of local mayor Jim Boult and tourism heavyweights.

They’re keen for visitors to pick up the tab for some of the infrastructure required to service Queenstown’s fast-growing tourist population, especially given the resort’s small ratepayer base.

In an interview with Mountain Scene this week, Bridges says: “Whilst a number of the arguments we made in gov-ernment were strong, we’re not going to hem ourselves in unnecessarily.”

With new tourism and local government spokespeople on-board, “we want to make sure that we look at things with a bit of openness and freshness.”

He accepts that increased visitor numbers have put “significant pressure on infrastructure”.

“What we did in government was we went down the path of creating the tourism infrastructure fund.”

Bridges: “I think in relation to the visitor levy there are some downsides to it – the complication of administering it, the efficiency of it and the desire to make sure that we are not perceived as too expensive.”

However, Bridges says he’s committed to reviewing the matter.

“Whether that means coming to the same position, ultimately, or a new one, we’re going to have some openness about that.”

Boult says he very much welcomes Bridges’ “refreshing new approach to the matter, and look forward to working with him to progress this issue”.

“I am also aware that both our ‘local’ National MPs, Jacqui Dean and Hamish Walker, are favourably disposed to a visitor levy and supportive of the work council is doing in this area.”

Boult admits he was “always disappointed by my inability to make progress on this matter with the previous government”.

Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis, asked to comment on Bridges’ change of heart, says: “I am currently considering options for charging international visitors, including a levy, and have not made any firm decisions on this yet.

“No single funding mechanism is likely to be the ‘silver bullet’ to resolving how to fund visitor-related infra-structure.

“Councils already have a range of options, including targeted rates (often referred to as a ‘bed tax’) and bed pan charges (charging per toilet), user charges (carparks, water, entry fees) and partnering with the private sector, for example leasing land or building space to commercial operators.”

Davis adds that the second round of the government’s tourism infrastructure fund will be launched soon, while Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta is planning a review of local government funding.

scoop@scene.co.nz