A specialist tour operator says the Ardern government’s proposed new tourism tax is unfair and targets the wrong visitors.
John Lightwood, managing director of Southwell-based Silver Fern Holidays, claims the tax will be an “unwelcome burden” on UK visitors and operators, who already make significant contributions to the New Zealand economy.
And he argues it exempts the one nation that puts Aotearoa’s tourism services under the most strain.
He told TGG: “International visitors already contribute billions of dollars to the country through 15 percent GST on accommodation and other tourism services.
“In addition, operators who take groups to New Zealand’s national parks – which means all our small group escorted tours and walking groups – pay the Department of Conservation a significant licence fee.
“I’m particularly annoyed the proposal exempts Australians from the new tax, when that market makes shorter, more frequent visits and places most pressure on New Zealand’s tourism infrastructure.
“By contrast, every UK visitor flies 11,000 miles and tours New Zealand for at least three weeks, often five or six, making a significant contribution to the country’s economy already.”
The new tax, likely to be between $25-35 per person, exempts citizens from Australia and Pacific Island forum nations, to whose short-haul flights it would have added a proportionately more significant amount than for those travelling longer distances.
Simon Calder, travel correspondent for the UK newspaper The Independent, said: “Relative to the airfare, and the amount that (UK) travellers typically spend in New Zealand, an extra £20 isn’t particularly significant.”
While the National Party says the new tax system will make New Zealand less appealing to international visitors, tourism minister Kelvin Davies says the industry’s rapid tourism growth necessitates a tax to fund facilities to cater for them.
“Many regions are struggling to cope and urgently need improved infrastructure, from toilet facilities to car parks,” he said.
New Zealand is the latest destination to propose such a tax after a number of cities, regions and countries have moved to deal with the fallout from dramatic increases in tourist numbers.
Cities levying a fee on accommodation include Barcelona, Rome, Berlin, Amsterdam and Vilnius, while island destinations such as the Balearics and popular regions such as Portugal’s Algarve have also imposed visitor fees.
New Zealand’s tourist tax is scheduled for introduction later next year following a consultation process.
In the year to April some 3.8 million tourists visited New Zealand, with Australians making up 39 per cent – nearly 1.5 million – of them.