National says tourists will have to pay double to go on NZ's Great Walks as Conservation Minister Maggie Barry introduces differential pricing; Labour expected to announce tourist levy later in campaign

National has announced that tourists coming to New Zealand to experience our “Great Walks” will now have to pay twice as much as locals for the privilege of doing so.

Conservation Minister Maggie Barry said on Friday that differential pricing would come into effect from October 2018 – something DOC has been working on since last year. Tourist teenagers and children will also be added to the billing list to “close a loophole” that saw international school parties book out huts without paying.

Barry said the extra $4 million in extra revenue raised each year from the Great Walks tourist levy hike would go towards Department of Conservation programmes as well as covering for the $1 million annual loss made by the Great Walks due to upkeep costs.

New Zealanders will not face price hikes. “We believe it’s fair that international visitors who experience our Great Walks pay a little more to enjoy our landscape and contribute to protecting our native wildlife,” Barry said.

Tourists have increasingly become revenue-raising targets as tourism rushes up the list of New Zealand’s income-generating sectors and after an increase in headlines about freedom campers. Labour is expected to announce a tourist levy that would raise over $100 million a year later during the campaign – something Barry ruled out in May.

Local Government New Zealand has been calling for GST paid by tourists to be given to the local authority where spending occurred as a way to fund and upgrade over-used local infrastructure like public bathrooms. Funding could also cover essential infrastructure like water pipes in small, tourist towns which experience seasonal pressure from fluctuations in population.

New Zealand First is a fan of the GST-for-the-regions policy. So too was former Labour Party leader Andrew Little - we're yet to hear Jacinda Ardern's thoughts on this.

Read the announcement from Barry below:

A National Government will ensure international visitors pay more to experience our world-famous Great Walks, providing more funding for conservation initiatives, conservation spokeswoman Maggie Barry says.

“The nine Great Walks are among New Zealand’s most popular visitor attractions, but they run at a $1 million annual loss,” Ms Barry says.

“We believe it’s fair that international visitors who experience our Great Walks pay a little more to enjoy our landscape and contribute to protecting our native wildlife.”

From October 2018, international visitors will pay double the fee on the five most popular Great Walks (Milford, Routeburn, Kepler, Abel Tasman and Tongariro), and 50 per cent extra for the other Great Walks and backcountry hut passes.

“There are no changes for New Zealanders – hut charges for Great Walks will stay at their current low levels,” Ms Barry says

“New charges will also apply to the under-construction Paparoa Track and the two new Great Walks planned as part of Budget 2017’s $76 million investment in conservation.

“National will also close a loophole which has seen international school parties book out huts without paying, by introducing a charge for teenagers and children from overseas.”

These changes will generate more than $4 million a year in extra revenue, all of which will be allocated to Department of Conservation (DOC) programmes.

“The extra revenue will ensure the Great Walks continue to be a world-class experience for visitors and New Zealanders – and provide additional resources to protect native species like the kea, kiwi and kokako,” Ms Barry says.

“Together with today’s announcement of an additional $5.4 million a year for community conservation programmes, National is showing its commitment to supporting community groups and DOC continue to protect out natural environment.”

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Long overdue.

Good. I climbed Sigiriya in Sri Lanka recently and it was a place I have wanted to get to for decades. A World Heritage Site - they charged me about $NZ35. Locals pay about 40 cents NZ. I'm fine with that.

Queenstown can't afford it's infrastructure to the extent it's becoming unliveable for residents. I would be happy to see $50.00 per night tax on hotel rooms. (yes $50.00 not $2.00 - because that is what infrastructure costs.) The hotel bunch act enraged at the idea of such a charge at $2.00. But strangely don't seem to unhappy with now charging $400.00 for a room they could only get $250.00 for, only 3-4 years ago.

Ah, Queenstown! The days of party-line phones; no Sky or TV3!; no traffic lights; no parking meters; no mobile coverage; no unemployment - even with low wages, yet sky-high property prices. Some things just don't change......

You're right, KH - the carrying capacity problem is not only about the conservation estate being overloaded - it's equally the problem of managing tourist numbers/facilities by local authorities.

I prefer a boarder tax as opposed to a bed tax - ideally paid at the time of booking tickets or applying for a visitors visa - or collected at the time of coming through immigration if it has not been paid prior to departure from ones home country. I like the idea of pre-paid because by the time most folks arrive they will have forgotten that they paid it - and I doubt many visitors would cancel their plans to travel to NZ simply because of say a NZD $25 boarder levy. If we want to be family friendly, we could exempt children under 16 years. With a single pre-paid tax, once folks arive they don't get hit with extra charge after extra charge.

A boarder levy doesn't impact NZers and is much easier to administer than anything else. For example, with the above proposal from National - what kind of administrative requirement will DOC have in order for NZ citizens and residents to prove their NZ citizenship or residency? Many NZers don't have passports; some don't have drivers licences and moreover - without sighting the person and the licence when taking the booking - how does one know the licence/passport number provided to be that of the person making the booking and turning up?

One has to find a way that the administrative costs don't exceed the increase in return/revenue.

So, I'm hoping Labour go for a conservation and infrastructure boarder tax. I'm pretty sure we already have a boarder tax for customs/biodiversity - so likely just an extension of whatever that administrative regime is, but for non-NZ citizens and residents only.

Thanks Kate. But don't forget the extreme problems of Queenstown are not just overseas people. Plenty of pressure there from folk from north of Cook Straight as well.

Yes, agreed, and using a statistic regarding visitor numbers to allocate the centrally collected tax would make no distinction between overseas/local visitors - so proportional to all visitor numbers would be the way to go. Granted, the only people paying the tax if collected at the boarder would be overseas visitors - but I'm comfortable that citizenship/residency deserves some benefits.

Is a tourist levy intended to control numbers , or is it to raise revenue ?

Both would be good. Tourism might raise revenue but it's massively subsidised by NZ residents.

Boatman. A tourist levy at the border would flow to central government. I think it should be for tourism infrastructure - but it's government so anything would happen to it.
A 'bed tax' could be a local thing. To be used for very stretched infrastructure, beyond what locals can provide. There is no finer example that the Wakatipu / Queenstown, which is currently quite tragic as a result of the growth.

Yes, equitable distribution of the centrally collected tax would be an issue to be worked out. Thing is, Tourism NZ have a very good statistics on tourist numbers by district and region. Distribution should be made based on that kind of bed nights standard formula, not the type of apply for 'Infrastructure Fund' National presently has - that's just another bureaucratic beauty contest.

Kate there are very very small rural communities that based on a bed night formula would miss out on what you are suggesting, but can gain funding via National's current fund. This is one such community and I know of others in Southland....

Raise revenue is my preferred targeted intent.

...An attempt to counter the tourist levy that labour will announce perhaps?


While we're at it, perhaps we could set a time frame - say three or five years - for all rental 'freedom campers' to be self-contained or off the road. The fouling of numerous sites is beyond description.

Perhaps if Conservation was properly funded i.e. not slashed as has happened, we would be able to give the money, less overheads to the tourist areas for infrastructure projects - toilets, water etc. Some businesses are making good money but it is the people who live in the tourist areas that are getting hammered with high rates etc to support tourism.

National must be desperate. They are pulling out every little populist vote wining trick that they can think of. But they are continuing to refuse to meaningfully address they really big and important problems in NZ.
Having said that a good move that needs to be repeated right through the tourism until we start seeing it dinting the growth in visitor numbers. Ie start optimising our profit margin/volume relationship as any sensible business would.

Yesterday's big policy announcement was a speed limit increase on three roads. lol.

Walks are supposed to generate money now.
I'm pretty sure tourists pay way more than they get back in forms of GST

Another lazy thought-bubble

How will the Department of Conservation distinguish between native-born Locals (no passport) (free) and Tourists and New Locals and Permanent Residents not yet citizens as they pass through the Pay Station or Toll Gate to be erected at the start of the tracks.

In the main it is an online booking system, but the same proof of NZ citizenship/residency issue applies. Makes the whole thing a bit more cumbersome possibly.

two other guys. You demonstrate you are a citizen - or if you choose not to - full fee. Its tough but thats the breaks.

The spotlight also needs to fall on the current subsidy being paid by public health to the insurance sector of 200 million annually being the unrecovered cost of treatment provided to overseas visitors (1.5% of Vote Health). Capturing travel insurance details at the border and matching this to health services received would stop this leakage and help close the health provider funding gap identified by Infometrics of 218 million annually

Anybody who is not a citizen should have compulsory and extensive health insurance. Including for accident. At the border no insurance certificate - no entry. (there could be purchase booths at the border.)