Tourists ‘can pay more’

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A controversial suggestion to charge overseas visitors higher than holidaying Kiwis is raising eyebrows in tourism and business circles. 

The Ministry of Economic Development last week released its briefing on tourism to Prime Minister John Key, who holds the tourism portfolio. 

In the report, the Ministry says the Government should seriously consider nationwide differential pricing to bring in more money from big-spending international tourists – while Kiwis pay less. 

The report refers to increased pressure put on the infrastructure of national parks – but it’s unclear whether the supercharge relates to just users of Government-owned conservation estates or across both public and private operators. A Ministry spokesman says the scope of the idea is still undecided. 

Total visitor expenditure has been declining on average for a decade, despite arrival numbers increasing, the report says. 

“New Zealand needs to make every visitor arrival count. 

“With respect to direct pricing of services, the benefit to NZ is likely to be greatest where New Zealanders face competitive pricing which seeks to recover not just the marginal cost, but also to some extent their ‘willingness to pay’.” 

Policy settings could improve to gain better value from foreign tourists. 

“Problems providing infrastructure in areas with small rating bases but very high tourism flows are examples of how current settings may not be optimal,” the report says. 

“The current approach is that value is captured for NZ through the economic activity in other complementary tourism offer-ings, such as accommodation close to national parks. However there is evidence … that these returns are insufficient and declining.” 

Queenstown Chamber of Commerce chairman Alastair Porter says he can’t comment on behalf of the chamber but as a local businessman he believes it’s a major issue the resort shouldn’t ignore. 

“This is the hottest issue that I bang on to politicians about,” he says. 

“We have a small ratings base, we have a very high infrastructure cost due to the high tourist flow and we as a town can’t afford to pay for it and that’s why we have debt problems. 

“Personally, I like the principle of user-pays but we have to be careful because the flipside of the coin is NZ’s already perceived as expensive – increasingly so – because of our currency. 

“We should strongly seek to be part of this debate.” 

Wellington-based Tourism Industry Association NZ policy and research manager Simon Wallace says he’s meeting Ministry officials to learn if the charges are for both private and public. 

“[The Ministry] can’t tell private operators how to run their business and what tourism operators should charge. Differential pricing is simply not going to work.” 

Destination Queenstown boss Tony Everitt says the document “raises some pertinent issues”. 

“From a DQ position we’ll pay attention, monitor this closely and look forward to participating in the consultation process.”