No sooner had the government revealed its bold tourist tax plan than industry bodies were lobbying for a say on how the proceeds should be spent.
The Ardern government announced on Thursday that, beginning in the second half of 2019, most international visitors entering New Zealand for less than 12 months will be charged a tourism rate of between $25 and $35.
The levy is expected to collect from $57 to 80 million in its first year, depending on the rate, which is designed to be split between tourism infrastructure and conservation activity.
But head of the Rural GP Network, Dalton Kelly, says tourists put a lot of pressure on local health services and the industry deserves a cut of the money too.
“While I understand the importance of car parks and toilets, I think when people are on holiday or on an adventure tour, they’re more concerned if something goes wrong with their health, than they would be about where they park their car.”
Mr Kelly says during the peak tourist season, rural doctors or nurses are regularly called out on emergencies, leaving local communities with no health support.
Tourism Industry Aotearoa CEO Chris Roberts, meanwhile, has been vocal about his industry’s right to an involvement in decisions made around the allocation of funds.
“It needs to be wisely spent…on behalf of the visitors who are paying, the tourism industry needs to have a say on where the money goes,” he said.
“No final decisions have been made on the split between conservation and tourism, what sort of projects should be funded, or how the decisions should be made.
“The tourism industry is ready to participate in a robust and constructive discussion on these crucial details.”
The details of how funds will be spent will be released following a month-long consultation process launched on Friday, with options outlined in the government’s announcement range from basics like building toilets to developing visitor attractions.
Tourism minister Kelvin Davis says the levies are necessary to help infrastructure keep up with the growing number of tourists entering the country.
“New Zealand is an extraordinary destination for tourists and our rising tourist numbers bear out the popularity of our unique country. But with success comes a burden,” he said.
“This rapid growth has impacted on the costs and availability of publicly-provided infrastructure. Many regions are struggling to cope and urgently need improved infrastructure, from toilet facilities to car parks.”
While the tax has been broadly welcomed, some local government representatives are underwhelmed by its promise.
Queenstown mayor Jim Boult says it will raise nowhere enough for the holiday mecca, which is swamped by tourists and is suffering a housing crisis as Airbnb-style lettings take affordable properties out of the market.
He instead favours an Auckland-style bed tax that would deliver money more directly to the community.
Dunedin deputy mayor David Benson-Pope has welcomed the visitor tax as “a really good start” but argues a bed tax should run alongside it.
“Clearly, that will put funds into specific communities, the ones that are facing the pressure. I think we will need to do both,” he said.
The main opposition National Party is also unconvinced, claiming the new tax system will make New Zealand a less attractive destination for international tourists.
Australians and people from most Pacific Island Forum countries will be exempt from the charge, which will be collected through visa applications and a new Electronic Travel Authority.
Other exemptions will apply to people on diplomatic, military, medical and humanitarian visas, those transiting through New Zealand, business visitor visa and APEC business traveller card holders and children under two years old.
Consultation regarding the tax is open from June 15 to July 15. The final decision is expected to be made in September and, if approved, the policy will come into effect in the second half of next year.