Destination Queenstown boss Graham Budd has taken a blunt message on the tourism tax debate straight to the top.
Budd called for serious consideration of a bed tax at a Tourism Industry Association summit in Wellington on Tuesday.
The DQ chief executive delivered his message during a panel discussion to top tourism leaders – with a 38-year-old copy of the Mountain Scene under his arm.
Delegates at the conference roared with laughter when Budd read word for word a Mountain Scene editorial from March, 1974. It lamented the fact Queenstown did not have a bed tax, suggesting 10 cents per person each night would enable the council to recoup the skyrocketing cost of providing for tourists.
Budd says 38 years of discussion is too long: “Decades – they’ve been talking about this and now I want to know whether anyone is actually serious about the idea of a bed tax.”
The man is on a mission to put a bed tax on the national agenda and Prime Minister John Key is taking notice.
Budd joined Australia’s top tourism man, John Lee, who is the Tourism Industry Association chief executive Martin Snedden’s equal across the ditch and the Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett, to thrash out ideas on the panel for a proposal to be sent to the Government.
The trio told delegates the time is right for a tourist tax and the opportunity to debate the issue shouldn’t be left any longer.
Budd has only been in Queenstown’s top tourism job since May and has wasted no time stamping his feet in Wellington. Previous DQ bosses have been reluctant to poke their heads above the parapet – but not so for Budd, who admits his comments may not represent the wishes of the DQ board or its members.
But he says it’s about having the debate and putting the issue firmly on the Government’s agenda.
Budd told delegates the Government needs to pass legislation to make it possible for cash-strapped, low-population communities like Queenstown – which cater for high numbers of tourists – to be able to levy visitors to offset the costs of infrastructure and promotion.
But not everyone at the conference agreed with Budd’s idea.
Key, also the Tourism Minister, was less than enthusiastic about a regionally administered bed tax, preferring a national tax, which makes tourists cough up at the border. But Key says he’s taking the issue seriously and welcomes a united approach from the tourism industry.
TIA leader Snedden credits Budd with bringing the issue to the table and he’s backing him all the way.
TIA members will now prepare a report for Key, which will be delivered to the Beehive within six months, outlining the various options.
Steve Wilde is Radio New Zealand’s Queenstown-based tourism correspondent