Visitor Levy investment plan 'only weeks away' - Government

Tourism Industry Aotearoa, chief executive, Chris Roberts.
Tourism Industry Aotearoa, chief executive, Chris Roberts. Photo credit: Supplied/TIA.

By Tess Brunton of RNZ

A tourism leader is questioning the government's silence over its investment plan for the $35-a-head tourist tax.

The International Visitor Levy was introduced last July with revenue split between conservation and tourism.

The first 10 projects to receive funding were announced in August with a long term investment plan expected by October.

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts said months later, the sector remained in the dark, despite more than $55 million being collected.

"There are tens of millions of dollars being collected from the international visitor levy and still silence on where that money is going to be spent," Roberts said.

"There's certainly an opportunity for those investments to be announced. They won't be short term assistance to business but they will be investments into making our tourism product better and the visitor experience better."

As many tourism operators grappled with the repercussions of COVID-19, Roberts said the announcement would be a welcome morale boost.

Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis said an investment plan for the levy was only weeks away.

Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis.
Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis. Photo credit: Newshub.

He acknowledged the plan was running late, saying the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)and the Department of Conservation were still working on the plan.

"When you're working on a plan with a long term view about how to best invest the $80 million a year the IVL brings in, it is going to take some time and it's important we get the investment plan right," Davis said.

"We have to make sure New Zealander's lives are enriched by sustainable tourism growth.

"I'm confident we'll be able to release it in a few weeks."

Some in the tourism industry suggested the levy could be a potential support for a hard hit industry, but Davis said it was about long term goals, not a short term fix.

"We aren't planning on using it to respond to COVID-19. The intention of the IVL is to fund projects that will contribute to the long term sustainability of tourism in New Zealand.

"We know that we're in the middle of the COVID-19 situation now. But Covid will pass and we've got to keep our eye on those long term goals for tourism."

As travel restrictions reduce the number of visitors into New Zealand, fewer levies are collected.

MBIE said the levy had not been hit hard by COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Acting tourism general manager Richard Davies said short-term fluctuations in visitor numbers would not have a meaningful long-term impact on the IVL.

Davies said the funding so far had not been affected by COVID-19 travel restrictions, but MBIE would consider funding fewer projects if there was any reduction in fund level.