The Opportunities Party East Coast candidate and former CEO of Tourism Export Council NZ Lesley Immink, is calling out the government for sitting on the fence in respect of not doing enough for the Department of Conservation and investing in tourism infrastructure.
Government collected $1.4 billion in GST from international visitors (2016) and allocated to the tourism industry approx $300 million – split between DOC and Tourism New Zealand. The rest of $1 billion plus stays with Treasury which indicates the government does not take the tourism industry seriously or they would be investing more. What the tourism industry received in the budget this year was pitiful. The grand announcement of $178m over four years was a smoke and mirrors attempt of looking like they were investing when in reality it was just a shuffling of the deck cards.
Of the $178 million over four years, $102m was for tourism and $76m for DOC. With DOC funding, $40m was already in the budget, which makes the additional funding only $36 million or $9m a year. Of the $102m for tourism infrastructure, $40m was already in the tourism partnership fund, which was ‘reprioritised’ – so all they gave the industry was $60m, or $15m a year. Considering tourism is the number one export sector, DOC is our largest tour operator and our conservation estate the largest motivator and draw card for international visitors, they gave conservation and tourism a pittance. It would not be so bad except in the budget they have $480m for irrigation schemes, which will continue to pollute the waterways and another $400m to clean up the waterways. Go figure!
Travel, whichever way you cut it, is a luxury, discretionary spend item. An environmental levy at the border is a simple solution which has minimal impact on international visitors, captures everyone and would provide immediate returns to communities via a contestable fund. It can also be used as a marketing benefit to visitors who are amazed they can travel through New Zealand visiting National, Forest and Maritime parks without having to pay a raft of entry fees and bed taxes. The levy connects the visitor to New Zealand and they can exit the country giving themselves a ‘feel good - pat on the back’ knowing they helped contribute to the protection and enhancement of our environment and biodiversity.
Minister Bennett cites that tourist taxes could potentially turn off international visitors and be a barrier for choosing New Zealand. Anecdotal research and trade intelligence does not support this and if anything, the industry could use an environmental levy as a marketing benefit. New Zealand is a premier destination of the world and we should be promoting it as such, valuing it appropriately.
The Opportunities Party environmental policy includes charging international visitors an additional $20 levy for local infrastructure and biodiversity protection to the current biosecurity border tax. The Newshub Poll (24/7/17) should international visitors be charged an environment levy, shows 65% of kiwis are in favour of a $50 levy. You can bet your bottom dollar now that Newshub has done the research, government will come off the fence before the election and miraculously announce in their considered opinion, international visitors could pay a little more.
Government should be investing much much more in tourism infrastructure which will benefit all New Zealanders and visitors. An environmental levy should be introduced with all proceeds going to DOC in addition to their current funding so they can protect the conservation estate rather than clean toilets and develop carparks?