Tourist tax: An editorial in Mountain Scene, March 21, 1974

For at least 45 years this community’s been having the same conversation.

We have gone around in circles and done an award-winning impersonation of a ‘push me pull you’ when it comes to a local visitor levy.

But soon, for the first time, we’ll have a chance to put the ‘bed tax’ to bed, one way or another, once and for all.

See, we’re about to have a referendum on this particular issue and if we get it across the line the government, unless it does a 180, will enact legislation to enable it.

And if we don’t get it across the line, we’ll probably never get another crack at it.

Put simply, it’s time for us to do the proverbial, or get off the pot for good.

I’ve been in town a minute now – not long enough to call myself a local, but long enough to have a reasonable grasp on this particular issue and the arguments for and against it.

The arguments haven’t really changed over the last four decades from what I can ascertain.

Neither have the pressures associated with our visitor population.

Maybe I’m over-simplifying things, but from where I sit we have an opportunity to get new money from our tourists to help us pay for our share of the things we need – roads, sewerage, water and whatnot.

Money that means we don’t have to constantly go cap in hand to the government trying to get a portion of a contestable fund – which every other region in New Zealand is also eligible for – which is nowhere near the amount that we actually need.

Money that means we can actually plan ahead and, more than that, get ahead.

Without it, according to mayor Jim Boult’s open letter last week, there are two options, understanding as wonderful as that long-touted GST rebate might be, it’s actually not up for discussion because, year after year, government after government, we, and many others, have been told ‘no’.

So, if that’s off the table and if we, collectively, say no to a local visitor levy, the council’s options are to increase rates, in some cases up to 35 per cent, or “peg back its investment”.

Compared to new money, neither of those seem particularly tempting.

If you wind back the clock to March 21, 1974, you’ll find an opinion piece in Mountain Scene, promoting a 10c a night bed tax to help fund the cost of roads, sewerage and other services.

If it had been introduced 10 years earlier, it said, “we would not be trying to raise loans now”. Sound familiar? It’s taken until 2019 to get a government willing to help.

We have the chance to do something for our community, that will reap benefits for future generations of Queenstowners – including those who get stung an extra $5 or $8 a night in their hostel when they come to visit but decide they don’t want to leave.

We’re never all going to be on the same page with this … as the saying goes, you can’t please everyone and you’ll die trying.

But, after 40-plus years of town hall meetings, pub chats, industry conversations locally and nationally, grilling every politician that comes to town (even the ones from other countries) and every person who puts their hand up to be an elected representative, opinion pieces in local rags like ours, and collectively shouldering the ever-increasing burden of tourists – and CONSTANTLY complaining about it – isn’t it time we just got over ourselves and got on with it?

Or don’t, and pay the price.