Rachel Smalley: Phil Goff's tourist tax a smart move, but needs to be nationwide

By Rachel Smalley

Phil Goff wants to introduce a new visitor levy on hotel rooms, that would roughly add about 3 or 4% to your hotel bill. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Phil Goff wants to introduce a new visitor levy on hotel rooms, that would roughly add about 3 or 4% to your hotel bill. Photo / Brett Phibbs

How do you feel about paying a few dollars more for an Auckland hotel room, if that money helps to fund the growth of the city? If it helps to fund the growth of the country's economic power house?

That's what Phil Goff is proposing, the city's new mayor. He wants to introduce a new visitor levy on hotel rooms, that would roughly add about 3 or 4% to your hotel bill.

So, on a 5 star hotel room costing around $500 a night, you'd pay around $15 to $20 a night.

If you're at a backpackers, and paying $50 to $100 a night, then the cost would be somewhere between $1.50 and $4 a night.

Goff says the levy would generate around $30 million a year, and instead of using ratepayer money to support major events and attract visitors to Auckland, the council would use the levy to fund that instead. Make sense to you?

I wonder if it's rolled out in Auckland whether we'd see other cities do the same. Christchurch, Queenstown could certainly make a bit of dosh out of a levy, Wellington, Taupo, Hamilton, Napier, Rotorua, New Plymouth.

The levy would take some of the burden off ratepayers and, as Phil Goff points out, spread the cost of growing the city across not just those who live in the city, but those who do business in the city as well.

Tourism boss Chris Roberts opposes it. He says we should be supporting tourism growth, not taxing it.

And John Key, our minister of tourism, says if you're going to put this in place it should be implemented nationally, not locally. I agree. And it would also bring us into line with a number of western countries who do this. It's common practise in the US and Europe.

My only query is what you should spend that $30 million on. I'm not sure we should use it to prop up major events and to market the city. I think it would be better to use that money to help develop better infrastructure for the tourism industry.

Tourism is ahead of dairy as the number one income earner for our economy. And while hundreds of thousands of people flood into this country, actually, it's millions of people, over three million tourists travelled to New Zealand last year, I think you've got to improve the experience and ensure it's a high quality experience.

It's simple things like loos. Some of our highly touristed areas, the loos are awful. The tourism ministry recently announced about $3 million was being spent on improving loos up and down the country. Also, parking at some of our key tourist attractions is poor. There aren't enough effluent outlets for campervans, and so it goes on.

So I'm with the Prime Minister on this. I think what Phil Goff is doing is absolutely right - a visitor levy is a good way to generate income, but it needs to go beyond Auckland. It needs to be a nationwide initiative.

And it also means that on domestic travel, we kiwis need to accept that our hotel bills will be a bit higher too.

I think it's a smart move. It's a price I would be prepared to pay.

But the money raised must be spent on developing infrastructure, and improving the tourist experience.

- Newstalk ZB

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