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Visitor levy referendum opens door to bold regional policy

The announcement of a referendum to gauge public support for a Queenstown visitor levy is welcomed by LGNZ, who noted the town’s exceptional challenges, where a population of 28,000 people provide infrastructure for over three million visitors a year.

Queenstown's ratio of 34 international visitors per resident is among the highest in the world, and the current ability of the council to provide essential services such as roads, footpaths, three waters, parks, toilets and tourist facilities is extremely stretched. This is because all of the direct tax benefits from tourist activity, such as GST, PAYE and profit taxes, flow into central government's coffers.

As an exceptional location, LGNZ has long advocated that New Zealand’s one size fits all policy for tourism and infrastructure funding has fallen far short in place like Queenstown, and that a levy for visitors is needed to cope with the growth.

“Queenstown is a small town with a massive international reputation as a tourism destination, but its popularity and growth has been a huge burden on the ratepaying base, when it doesn’t need to be,” says LGNZ Mayor Dave Cull.

“Today’s announcement is a positive step towards a policy that recognises not all areas of New Zealand are the same, and that specific, tailored policy is needed to tackle unique challenges and make the most of our regional strengths.”

“I believe that tourists will be happy to pay for their fair share of the infrastructure that they use, as they do in many other parts of the world.”

“Too often central government policy makers have been scared to loosen the reins on our regions and let them make the decisions that are best for their communities, which we think is unfounded. This is a move in the right direction.”

The non-binding referendum will be considered by Queenstown Lakes District Council today.

“Our regions welcome the opportunities that tourism brings, but we need to find a balance to maintain tourisms social licence with our communities. Visitor arrivals are forecast to reach 5.1 million by 2024, so more flexibility to have those tourists pay their own way is needed,” says Cull.

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