Getting Southland’s fair share

Tourism in Curio Bay is a growing hotspot in Southland. PHOTO: Venture Southland

Southern tourism organisations say how the government spreads the wealth from its proposed tourism levy is key for the province.

The government is asking for submissions on a proposal to charge international visitors $25-35 at the border.

The proposal is taking ideas on how and where the extra revenue would be distributed, which makes it the main point of discussion — and concern — for Southland's two regional tourism organisations (RTOs). 

Tourism surpasses dairy as New Zealand's number one export earner, and the government collected almost $1.5 billion in tourism GST last financial year.

However, Venture Southland tourism and events manager Warrick Low said growing demand on tourism was putting pressure on regions with low ratepayer bases like Southland.

"If a user pays on a national level, and then the money gets distributed by population of New Zealand, that wouldn't be ideal. That would mean the North Island gets the majority of that funding."

Stewart Island visitor numbers went up at least 25%. Tourism growth in the Catlins continued and activity along the Southern Scenic Route down to Riverton had been booming. Businesses were popping up in Northern Southland catering to tourists making their way from Queenstown to Milford Sound. 

"[Locals] have to be happy they're not carrying the weight of tourists for no return."

Destination Fiordland general manager Sharon Salmons agreed: what mattered ultimately was where the money got spent.

The government already got a lot of money from tourism, be it in the form of GST or business taxes.

Guest nights in the Fiordland RTO went up almost 11% for the year to date ending in March. Total spend went up 9.6% to $230 million.

"Central government have got the money, it's how that that extra border tax is going to come down to the local councils."

It's not only Southland's RTOs that are asking for an equitable distribution.

The New Zealand Rural General Practice Network chief executive Dalton Kelly said a levy needed to reflect that tourism, while a great thing for the economy, put a strain on rural health services. 

Some rural communities experienced a tenfold increase in population over the summer holiday season.

"At the height of the tourism season a rural doctor or nurse can undertake up to six air ambulance call-outs in a single day, leaving the local community with no health support."

He said the national rural emergency response service received $2 million in annual funding and required additional funding to deliver a sustainable service. He said funding from a tourism levy could provide a funding boost to the service.

The consultation period on the International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy closes on July 15.

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