Fresh airing for bed tax

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A bed tax is back on the agenda for Queenstown.

But the idea might be blocked from Wellington before it gathers pace.

At the resort’s Chamber of Commerce AGM on Tuesday, boss Ann Lockhart said a governance group has been formed and it has started lobbying.

The chamber sounded out Prime Minister John Key earlier this year about possible law changes to allow a visitor levy for Queenstown or the district.

But the prime minister remains unmoved.

Yesterday, Key’s spokeswoman said in an emailed statement: “At this stage we have no plans to review that legislation.”

A visitor levy was one option mooted by the council in June to help fund the $60 million convention centre proposal.

It’s been discussed countless times in the resort since at least the 1970s, but the government set the precedent two years ago, allowing Stewart Island to levy a $5 visitor levy which was introduced in September last year.

Lockhart corrected herself yesterday, saying the governance group had not actually been formed but she and chamber chairman Charlie Phillips had talked about it.

The chamber board says a bed tax is a “painless” way to raise funds and relieve ratepayers.

Lockhart says the user pays system could see a “few extra dollars per night” added to accommodation costs.

Mayor Vanessa van Uden says it’s wrong to assume that the chamber is “further ahead than they are”.

Clutha-Southland MP Todd Barclay says: “It’s still early days, it’s unclear exactly what the proposal is and I am still in the process of forming my view.”

Van Uden says the council will do whatever it can to help – provided it’s what the community wants it to do. That includes figuring out if it’s feasible.

“If it’s not going to go anywhere, it’s important we get that answer quite early. There’s no point in this dragging on for years and years and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars if the answer’s going to be ‘no’.”

City Hall introduced a targeted rate in 2012, added to the rates of businesses that benefit from tourism.

It’s designed to contribute about 50c a day from each visitor – which might collect as much as $1.4m a year.

Former Motel Association of New Zealand president Peter Smith says if the chamber’s motivation is to help fund the convention centre there’s a risk it will become a huge white elephant.

“The stadium [Forsyth Barr] in Dunedin is still struggling and shows no sign of improving.

“I suspect a conference venue in Queenstown will be the same.”

ed@scene.co.nz