After referendum "yes" vote Mayor considers visitor levy changes

by Peter Newport - Jun 07, 2019

In the wake of a successful 81.3% referendum vote in favour of a new local visitor levy, Mayor Jim Boult has told Crux that he may suggest increasing the planned levy - but with a special sweetener for disgruntled hotel owners.

Boult says that he could offer a commercial rates rebate to hotels that had to collect the new tax, therefore defusing arguments about the cost and fairness of the accommodation sector being the sole sector involved.

Last year the mayor signaled this move to Crux when the proposed levy was at 10%, saying he could offer up to a 3% commercial rates rebate to hotels as compensation for collection and administration costs.

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Mayor Jim Boult - thrilled by the referendum result but wondering if a 5% tax maybe too little to make a real difference.

Today, thrilled by the 81% referendum result he said "The amount that we collect under the new visitor levy is not set in stone. If the new levy was to increase then that would give us room to offer a rates reduction to the hotels that were collecting the money."

The new visitor levy requires a change in legislation from Wellington, and today's referendum result was required by Government as proof that the local community welcomed the change.

The referendum and legislation change are also important barriers to stop many other tourism centres around New Zealand asking for a similar visitor levy.

Some smaller local hotel operators have argued against the proposed visitor levy because they believe that non-hotel tourism operators should also be collecting the tax and that a share of GST would be a better way for the district to be supported. The Government has consistently rejected any call for a share of GST, in spite of calls from the Tourism Industry Association for that move to be implemented.

The referendum result is a political win for Mayor Jim Boult as the Queenstown Lakes District will be the only region in the country allowed to collect a local tax, with the exception of the Auckland fuel tax. The Auckland tax also required a change of legislation.

There is concern is some quarters that the $22.5 million estimated revenue from a 5% local visitor levy would not be enough to make a significant impact on the cost of maintaining local tourism related infrastructure.

The referendum turnout was 41 per cent which is regarded as high for a non-binding referendum.



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