Luxon doubles down on bed tax opposition

by Lauren Pattemore - Sep 11, 2023

National leader Christoper Luxon confirmed today his party would not introduce a bed tax to fund infrastructure in Queenstown Lakes, despite the mayor and local councillors questioning his reasoning.

In a statement to Crux today, Mr Luxon says National does not support a regionally-targeted tourist tax whilst New Zealand is in a cost-of-living crisis and attracting fewer visitors.

“Tourist numbers are still not where they were pre-Covid so lumping an extra tax on international and domestic visitors, when travelling is already expensive, does not make sense,” Mr Luxon says.

Instead of asking holidayers to help fund tourism infrastructure, Mr Luxon says his party will establish a National Infrastructure Agency.

It will “deliver the infrastructure New Zealand – and sectors like tourism – need to grow”, he says.

Mr Luxon first declared his lack of support for a bed tax while in Queenstown last Thursday, announcing new tourism-growth plans for New Zealand.

Mayor Glyn Lewers says he would “very much push back” on the cost-of-living argument, as the alternative to funding tourism-related infrastructure in the district is to target ratepayers.

He says increasing rates would have more impact during a cost-of-living crisis, calling Mr Luxon’s stance a “pretty shallow argument”.

This year, Mr Lewers and council chief executive Mike Theelen have been attempting to reignite tourism levy conversations that started in 2019 and were shelved during the pandemic. An initial proposal pitched in 2019 had support from 81 percent of ratepayers.

Suggested was a five percent charge added to the cost of accommodation in the district, and Mr Lewers says a targeted rate like that would be around the same price for visitors as getting a cup of coffee in Queenstown.

Mayor Glyn Lewers pushed back on the cost of living argument as the alternative was to ask the district's ratepayers to foot the bill for tourism infrastructure.

He says no matter who gets into government next month, there will be “hard choices” as to how to fund infrastructure in Queenstown Lakes.

Crux’s previous coverage of National’s new tourism-growth package and local responses to it have generated a local and central government stoush on social media.

Local National MP Joseph Mooney is advocating for his party and its fresh plans for tourism, which include a new Great Walk in Canterbury, e-bike chargers on the NZ Cycle Trail, longer-term Department of Conservation concessions, and "eliminating" consents for existing infrastructure upgrades and new infrastructure, and streamlining building consents to cut compliance costs.

He also vouched for the idea of the National Infrastructure Agency, saying it would work with local councils such as that of the Queenstown Lakes that have low ratepayer bases and high visitor numbers to ensure they can access the finance they need for local projects.

But Queenstown Lakes councillor Niki Gladding says the infrastructure agency and its funding mechanisms sound vague, while deputy mayor Quentin Smith likens the infrastructure plans to an episode of ‘Utopia’.

“While your statement might sound good there is no detail and zero understanding of the financial and carbon costs of your policies…just a ‘comforting-sounding’ statement that basically says you’ll work it out later,” was how Ms Gladding put her counter-argument.

Ms Gladding says plans to grow tourism in the district in spite of the sentiment expressed by local players in the destination management plan, in addition to National's policy of letting foreign buyers back into the residential housing market at the $2-million level are “tone deaf” proposals and exacerbate Queenstown Lakes' key issues.

“Labour took a ‘we know best, one size fits all’ approach and, at this point, National is doing the same.”

Mr Smith says while some of the new proposals are nice, on a whole they don't "really deal with the core of our problems”.

The online comments follow an interview with Crux, where the deputy mayor responded to Mr Luxon's tourism announcement saying the opposition to a bed tax did not make sense in relation to a cost-of-living argument.

Main image: National leader Christopher Luxon and party tourism spokesperson and Southland MP Joseph Mooney last week revealed their plans to build back tourism if elected to government next month.

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