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Ecotourism operators divided on “nature levy”

Media release – for immediate use                                                                         12 August 2008

Ecotourism operators divided on “nature levy” proposal

A nature levy on overseas’ visitors to help pay for “environmental tourism-related initiatives” was floated by Tourism Minister Damian O’Connor today at the Ecotourism NZ Conference in Greymouth.

Ecotourism NZ chair Brian MacKenzie said operators at the three-day conference were divided over the issue. Some were vehemently opposed to the idea as it could put another barrier in the way of people visiting New Zealand , on top of rising fuel costs, economic issues and environmental concerns.

“They’re worried it would be seen as just like a cover-charge and if the Government was serious about developing tourism infrastructure they could use of some of the GST that tourists already pay while they’re here.”

Mr MacKenzie said others at the event supported the proposal, saying a substantial levy might help attract the high-end, high-yield tourists and be a deterrent to the low-cost bulk tourism seen as undesirable by some tourism businesses.

“They’re definitely more to talk about on this issue. Whatever the outcome, we’ll be passing on our views to the Tourism Ministry.”

Mr O’Connor said any initiative around a nature levy would require widespread endorsement by the industry.

“The Government has no intention of imposing a levy without full support from tourism industry stakeholders.”

Addressing the more than 150 delegates at the conference, he said the concept would involve a charge on incoming international travellers via their airline ticket.

“The money collected, for example $10 to $15 per ticket, would go into an open and transparent fund that would be managed by an independent group including representatives from the industry and central Government,” he said.

“This fund could then be used for environmental related tourism initiatives such as infrastructure projects and marketing.”

Mr O’Connor said unlike other fees already imposed on tourism operators, like GST and PAYE, the “environmental levy” would directly benefit the tourism industry.

“I am fully aware of the argument that tourism already contributes significantly to Government revenue, but this levy is a mechanism where tourism participants contribute directly to an industry-good fund.”

 ends

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