Queenstown’s mayor believes the government’s talking the talk on local tourism funding but says it also needs to walk the walk.
The Labour-led government this week released its draft Tourism Strategy aimed at ensuring New Zealand gains more from tourism’s rapid growth but also copes better with the pressures it places on communities.
Mayor Jim Boult says he supports the strategy’s direction and is encouraged it sees its planned border levy on tourists as only “the first step” towards “more sustainable funding”.
“But a permanent visitor levy, gathered regionally, is the model that solves the issues we have, and probably many other similarly-affected districts such as, for example, Mackenzie [District Council].”
Money raised by the border levy – titled the International Visitor Tourism and Conservation Levy – will be split 50/50 between tourism and conservation.
Boult points out tourism’s 50 per cent “will be somewhere north of $30 million, and that’s less than we need, per year, in our district alone, so this is not a replacement for the visitor levy that we so desperately need”.
He says he’s “particularly pleased”, however, to see some funding’s going into the ‘responsible camping’ strategy.
Summing up the tourism strategy, he says: “It’s a step in the right direction, but by no means is it the fix.”
Meanwhile, Destination Queenstown boss Graham Budd, who’s also an ardent advocate for a regional visitor levy, is “really heartened” that the government’s considering other tourism funding options, beyond the new tourism and conservation levy.
And that it recognises the fact “we’ve got a systemic issue with funding that needs addressing”.
He believes “you could read into that that [a visitor levy’s] very likely part of their thinking, but I guess they’re not wanting to come to end points or conclusions while there’s still [ongoing] investigation, so I can understand that politically”.
“Being an advocate for visitor levies at a regional level, I’m not concerned that I don’t see that exact wording in here.
“I think they’re looking really broadly to say, ‘what other possibilities are there?’, and I think that’s appropriate, actually.”
Local Opposition MP Hamish Walker, however, says the strategy identifies the challenges facing high-pressure tourism areas like Queenstown but doesn’t offer any solutions.
“The solution is quite simple – investing in Queenstown’s infrastructure – and it needs to happen now.
“Queenstown is suffocating with the strain on its infrastructure, shown in the pushback on the recent airport consultation.”
Meanwhile, neither Boult nor Budd are fans of the government’s various ‘contestable’ funds, like the Tourism Infrastructure Fund and Provincial Growth Fund that councils have to apply for, case-by-case.
“I’m not, because a big centre can afford to hire a consultant to put together a lovely application, whereas places like Franz Josef, for example, have to do theirs on the back of an envelope,” Boult says.
And Budd adds: “It’s the only mechanism the government has identified to distribute central government funding into regions, so we have to live with it, but they do create a huge amount of bureaucracy and effort from local authorities and businesses and communities to apply for funding.”
He notes, approvingly, that the strategy also suggests the government invest in conference centres.
Submissions on the draft plan close February 4. The full strategy and a summary can be found on www.mbie.govt.nz