New Zealanders' tax shouldn't be used to install extra toilets for tourists and a levy on international visitors could work, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.
Labour is waiting for advice from officials as to how a levy could work, after campaigning on charging international visitors a $25 per trip levy, with 60 per cent of funds collected going on tourism projects, and the rest going on conservation work.
Tourism Industry Aotearoa has questioned whether excluding NZ citizens and permanent residents from the levy would be workable, given no other country in the world has a system to do so when people pay for airfares.
Ardern told Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB her party had explored some of the challenges in introducing a charge.
"But I wouldn't be so black and white as to say it wouldn't work…of course there are those in the industry who would rather – have put up a counterargument – that they want GST returned to the regions. I'd say that is not workable.
"So we are looking for ways that we can fund that need that isn't just general taxation. I don't think every New Zealander should be paying to install extra dunnies for freedom campers. I think there is something to be said for those who are coming in to enjoy the spoils of New Zealand's tourism industry making a small contribution."
The previous National Government introduced a border clearance levy, which has meant people with a return ticket to or from New Zealand pay a total charge of about $22, included in their airfare.
Any new charge would come on top of that, but only affect visitors who are not citizens or residents of New Zealand.
Tourism Industry Aotearoa's chief executive Chris Roberts told the Herald the proposal as outlined pre-election, "is not actually implementable".
"We can only find one border tax in the world where local passport holders and residents are excluded from paying it. And that is in Mexico, but Mexicans who fly out of Mexico have to pay and then seek reimbursement," Roberts said.
"Unless they are going to set up booths at the airport to collect the tax, to put two different prices into all the airline systems around the world…that is a complication that they haven't thought through.
"We are yet to see how it could be workable. It would essentially be coming up with a world first."
The biggest impact on visitors would be on those coming from Australia, he said.
"The Tasman is already the most heavily taxed air route in the world because the Australians have $60 worth of taxes collected by their Government. If another tax came in visitors would be paying around $100 per ticket in tax. That makes it extremely difficult for the low cost carriers to survive."
Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis said he had asked for advice on a levy, including how and where it could be collected, "as well as other options".
"No final decision will be made until that advice has been provided. Industry are aware that a levy is one of the options we are considering and I look forward to further discussions with them on the matter."
Since January 2016, all international travellers have been charged a border clearance levy, used to pay for border screening and security. Labour's website references that change when explaining why there is no evidence to support the claim a tourism levy will affect visitor numbers.
"After the current Government introduced a $22 border levy, visitor numbers were not impacted at all – in fact, they rose more quickly than expected," the website states.
"International visitors spend, on average, more than $3000 each in New Zealand and more than $1000 on international airfares. The $25 Tourism and Conservation Infrastructure Fund Levy will add less than 1 per cent to this and is far less than the variability in airfares."
A spokeswoman for Hospitality NZ said there was a need for a considered conversation about how tourism is funded.
"I guess our greatest fear is if a national levy isn't brought in, then what we will see is council's bringing in targeted rates…where individual sectors of tourism get pinged."
Local Government New Zealand has voiced support for a charge, saying there is a clear need for infrastructure, and councils struggled to fund it.
National's finance spokesman Steven Joyce said the concern with a tourist tax was it would add to the cost of coming here, and put some travellers off.
"Everybody says, 'they will keep coming'. But, actually, wherever you are in the world, you have choices…New Zealand is already quite expensive, and there are countries like Croatia and others that we compete with in terms of scenic beauty and so on.
"I would certainly continue to argue against it. There is no actual need for it if the Government runs its accounts properly. They have got rising tax revenues anyway, including a fair bit from the tourism industry."