New Tourism and Hospitality Minister Matt Doocey says he will seek advice on a potential visitor levy for Queenstown.
Speaking exclusively to Mountain Scene during his first visit to the resort last Friday, Doocey, left, with Southland MP Joseph Mooney, says the tourism sector’s a big export-earner for New Zealand and will be critical as the new government looks to get the country ‘back on track’.
‘‘The reality is, when the Finance Minister, Nicola Willis, talks to the half-yearly fiscal and economic update on December 20, it’s not going
to be a good story.
‘‘The books aren’t in a good order.
‘‘So, yep, we stood on a campaign of reducing government spending and getting books back in order, and growing the economy, and tourism and hospitality will be part of that.’’
But the pressure of funding a premier international destination from a small rating base has long been a talking point in the district.
In 2019, Queenstown’s council voted unanimously in favour of a non-binding referendum in which 81.37% voted in support of introducing, essentially, a bed tax on short-term accommodation across the district.
At the time, former mayor Jim Boult said Queenstown-Lakes had the highest visitor-to-resident ratio in the world — 34 visitors to every resident.
And funding the infrastructure required, from what was then 24,000 ratepayers, was ‘‘unsustainable’’.
When Covid arrived, though, Boult confirmed the levy — which had been about to be introduced to Parliament — was on hold.
While work’s continued behind the scenes, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has been clear it’s not part of his plan.
Doocey takes a different view, particularly given growing the economy will cost money which the country — and the Queenstown-Lakes — doesn’t have.
He also points to ‘‘fairness’’.
‘‘Is it fair that there is that presure on areas like Queenstown, with a low rating base, but high tourist numbers and the pressure that puts on locals here as well?’’
He’s working with Local Government Minister Simeon Brown around the government’s infrastructure policy and city-regional deals, and how that ‘‘interfaces this issue with towns like Queenstown as well’’.
‘‘And, fair to say, if you look at potential revenue initiatives like a bed tax, I think nothing’s off the table for me at this stage, and I’ll be seeking advice on that.’’
Doocey’s Q’town links
Doocey, 51, arguably has better knowledge of Queenstown’s issues — and those facing the tourism and hospo sector — than any other Tourism Minister in recent times.
His late grandfather built and owned his own hotels, which his father managed.
He grew up in them and started working in them from the age of 15.
He also had two stints here in the ’90s, the first living in Arrowtown and working on the TSS Earnslaw and at Walter Peak.
‘‘The second summer stint I did, I lived in Robins Rd and I worked at the One Red Dog on Brecon St, which was near to the Lone Star.
‘‘That was a good experience about sometimes the brutality of the sector.
‘‘[One] night I was working with my colleagues and the receivers turned up, told us to leave the building and locked up.
‘‘We missed out on several weeks of wages and the business had gone under.
‘‘That is part of the hospitality and tourism sector because it is a tough trade.’’
While he dealt with mental health issues, resulting from a car accident, then trained and worked in mental health and healthcare management in NZ and the United Kingdom, including 10 years at the NHS, tourism’s in his blood.
In the UK, he spent a year as a tour guide in Western Europe for Busabout, and also backpacked through Syria, Bosnia, Eastern Africa and Cambodia.
‘‘Now I find coming back to NZ, it’s that story where you travel your own country last.’’
Doocey credits Mooney for ensuring Queenstown was his first visit after being appointed to the tourism and hospo portfolio — and as NZ’s first Mental Health Minister — earlier this month.
And he’s vowing to continue listening and hearing from the industries.
‘‘I’m aware that I’m newly-appointed and I want to hear from people on the ground.
‘‘Not only have I prioritised coming to Queenstown first, I’ve also made a very clear expectation with the officials that with the House rising at the end of [next week], Parliament stops.
‘‘But as we know, tourism and hospitality is 365 days a year, so it actually creates a real opportunity and space where I can get out and about and engage with the sector.’’