In principle, the idea of user-pays is a pretty good one.



If a driver wants to save time and not be involved in heavy traffic then he can pay a toll and use a fairly uncongested highway like the Tauranga Eastern Link.



If you want to have your rubbish collected each week then you either subscribe to a waste removal company for a pretty reasonable amount, in my opinion, or buy pre-paid council bags and leave them out for the truckies to pick up.



And, on a slightly more elitist level, if you want to be able to have almost instant access to health care then you can extra for private health insurance.

Advertisement


All that is fine because, I reckon, it is about choice. You can pick and choose if you want to make life better, or easier, but you need to pay more for it.



Recently the user-pays attitude tramped into territory where it is not so easy to say "sure, that's okay".



The director-general of the Department of Conservation (DoC) Lou Sanson wants to start charging tourists up to $100 to walk the country's Great Walks.



This includes the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, the Routeburn and Kepler tracks, as well as the famous Milford Track.



Authorities say the popularity of major tramps has exploded in New Zealand with half of our visitors wanting to connect with nature. Just 18 months ago that figure was sitting at 30 per cent.



As tourism numbers increased, it was important to protect the country's point of difference: its natural environment, he said.



The amount Mr Sanson suggested by way of an entry fee was $100 for foreigners and $40 for local hikers.



Under the current regime trampers using huts along the routes pay for them.



Now I have a couple of major issues with the idea.



Firstly, tax-paying Kiwis should not be charged extra for visiting somewhere they are already paying for. If the DoC budget cannot stretch to dealing with bigger numbers of visitors then it should go to the Government and state its case for more direct funding.



My reasoning for not charging tourists is this: They are now the biggest contributor to New Zealand's economy and without ever-increasing numbers of visitors many related industries would likely fold.



The result of that is major unemployment and another blow to regional economies that are becoming more reliant on the tourist dollar.



Looking it another way; that's jobs for your kids and grandkids under threat.



Some people may scoff at that but visiting New Zealand is an expensive business.



Flights from around the globe are cheaper than they have ever been, but they are not cheap.



People arriving here then must hire rental cars, stay in hotels or motels, eat out, at internationally expensive places, pay for petrol and other costs. Again, most of those are at the high end of international prices.



Every way tourists turn here there is someone else with his hand out trying to wring more money out of them.



That can be off-putting for visitors.



I have had innumerable conversations with tourists who all tell me this is a expensive country to come to and tour around.



While they say parts of it are beautiful they must limit what they can do because of the cost.



Those tourists will tell other potential visitors, some of whom may well be put off making their way down here.



Charging them for what has been a free activity is not a sensible move in my view.



Many will see a tramping fee as just another tax on tourists and that will not sit well.



Because tourism is so important to New Zealand, it is incomprehensible visitors should be regarded as cash cows to be milked long and hard.



Past president of Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand Robin McNeill said he could see the appeal of a charge to cover a shortfall, but thought there were better ways to get extra funds.



"Something else we should consider is tourism growth in New Zealand is about 18 per cent year-on-year at the moment. Why not just fund the department 18 per cent more each year to allow for that?"



Much more sensible, let's hope those in charge get the dollar signs out of their eyes and engage their long-term brain cells.