The announcement of the hotel complex to be built on Riverside Drive has drawn comment about how good it will be for Whangārei.

Some 140-160 jobs are promised at the hotel, and there will be flow-on business opportunities in and around the Town Basin.

The Hundertwasser, the hotel and entertainment centre, the prospect of cruise ships ferrying passengers from Northport, will undoubtedly be transformative.

More souvenir shops will pop up. Galleries selling shopping-bag-compact artworks might find a niche. They will be new places to dine out.


In a few years' time, a new vibe around the Town Basin will be interesting to observe and enjoy.

The financial benefits, for the most part, however, will swing to a small number of local business operators and overseas interests, in the case of the international hotel chain lined up for the Riverside Drive site.

And that's after a significant amount of public money has gone into the Hatea Loop Walkway and Hundertwasser Art Centre.

Which raises the question of how the benefits of a tourist influx can be spread more widely.

The Government's tourist tax, otherwise known as the International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy, will be introduced in 2019.

The $25 to $35 levy (the amount is still to be decided) will raise up to $80 million. Some of that money will find its way back to Whangārei to maintain public facilities near tourist attractions.

The tourist tax is a necessary move, but there's a strong case for a more direct route between tourism money and the people living in a region.

One way would be a tax on accommodation, a "bed tax" paid to local councils rather than central government. Auckland Council has already voted to introduce one. Other councils are seriously looking at the idea.

It would be good to know what Northland's councillors think and if there are plans to follow Auckland's lead.


What I'd like to see, is any tax levied on tourists enjoying our harbour and publicly supported assets like the Hundertwasser, going towards helping us to fund free public transport.

Fare-free public transport now exists in around 100 cities and towns worldwide (with the list growing). The benefits are many: reduced private transport costs, greater freedom for younger people, less road congestion and a meaningful way of reducing net carbon emissions.

This bold idea could be sold to tourists by saying that their travel - one of the most carbon-polluting things you can do - will be offset by a levy that goes directly towards lessening the carbon emissions of the region they are visiting.

Tourists would, of course, be able to take advantage of the free public transport themselves - an attraction in itself.

This new tax could be called the "International Visitors Carbon Emissions Offset and Free Public Transport Levy". A bit of a mouthful, but they'll get the idea.

You can just see hotel staff being asked the question: "What's that charge for?"

"Oh, that's for offsetting your carbon emissions as a result of traveling to our country by helping us pay for our lovely free bus service."

Tourist: "Fair enough."