Tourism NZ slams $356 UK flight tax

Tourism New Zealand has slammed a 55 per cent increase in the flight tax tourists from the United Kingdom will have to pay to fly to our shores.

From yesterday, passengers will have to pay up to 170 pounds sterling (NZD$356) in Air Passenger Duty to fly to New Zealand and Australia.

With the rates graduated by travelling distance, long-haul passengers to this part of the world will pay more than those travelling closer to home.

Tourism New Zealand spokesperson Greg Anderson told National Radio the flight tax would adversely impact numbers of tourists flying from the UK.

"In a difficult economic climate this is just something else that is not making the recovery any easier," Mr Anderson said.

The numbers of tourists from the UK have been down in the last two years, and in recent months down by between 10 and 20 per cent, Mr Anderson said.

"Overall for the year we are down six per cent," he said. "This is just one of three or four things that are going to hurt sales to New Zealand."

Mr Anderson said the New Zealand Dollar and the cost of air prices provide further deterrents to prospective travellers.

"Compared with many other destinations, particularly in the short-haul market, New Zealand, and Australia for that matter, really dropped off the best value list. It's not good news on any front."

Departure tax increases have been in the pipeline since when Gordon Brown was prime minister, and Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said the Government here had been trying to influence a review of the charges expected to be undertaken the British Government.

"We've had a very favourable response," he told Radio New Zealand. "It's fair to say that (Foreign Secretary) William Hague in particular has made it clear that he understands the points that we have made - that this is a very punitive tax as far as more distant nations like New Zealand are concerned."

Mr McCully said he had had reassurances from Mr Hague and his ministerial colleagues that they have been working to secure an understanding of New Zealand's position.

"They have made it very clear that they would be very happy to see changes made that are favourable from our perspective."

Mr McCully said it was becoming clear that the change was sparking a backlash in Britain, and media there were explaining to the public how the tax could be avoided, for example, by travelling by underground fast train to France and beginning long-haul journeys from there.

"I think they will find the impact of this is going to be pretty savage on some of the airports and the British airlines, and they will want to see it addressed fairly quickly."

He said there were strategies to get people to New Zealand for next year's rugby World Cup "and it won't be particularly helpful to have new taxes cutting across that strategy".

British airline companies have also been campaigning against the tax hike claiming it will threaten an already struggling industry.

Airlines have called the rises disgraceful, with Virgin Atlantic and British Airways saying it will mean overseas holidays are no longer affordable for many, and it could prompt people to travel to Europe and depart from there.

- NZPA and NZHERALD STAFF

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