Economics professor Tim Hazledine has a message for the tourism industry, which is arming itself for a battle against Auckland mayor Phil Goff’s proposed visitor tax.
The University of Auckland expert has no problem with any measure that might deter low-end tourists from visiting the city, saying Auckland is full.
“The landscape is congested. Our tourism industry should be less about volume and more about value – what visitors can give to us and what we can give to them as well.” He cites the crush for the Waiheke ferry on Saturday and Sunday mornings as an example of the kind of gridlock we could do without.
Hazledine said if the new tax raises hotel prices, and a few extra dollars in accommodation turns off the tight-budget traveller, so be it.
But it’s the second part of Goff’s plan that riles.
The part where the money goes back to ATEED, the council-controlled organisation charged with the city’s economic development – including the job of promoting the city.
“Ten years ago when Auckland wasn’t full and we wanted people to come, that would have made some sense,” he said.
But now – it’s time to pull back – “Cut back all that promotional stuff and replace it with an information booth.” To spend the money on encouraging more people to come in would just make the original problem worse.
Hazledine says the penny should have dropped on Auckland when ATEED’s initial offer of cash to help promote the Joseph Parker boxing match was pulled thanks to public outrage – the promotor’s bluff was called, the bout went ahead, and was a success.
“It’s time to query if we need to do all this,” he said.
“There’s terrific stuff going on in Auckland at the moment – but maybe we need to cut back.”
Last week alone Auckland hosted concerts by Adele, Justin Bieber. Don Henley and Twenty One Pilots; Pasifika was on at Western Springs; the Blues played at North Harbour and a multitude of events were hosted under the Arts Festival umbrella.
It’s not just Auckland that’s bursting at the seams. Hazledine has been horrified by grid-lock in Queenstown and suggests the big thing New Zealand has going for it – and unspoiled landscape – is not being protected as our finest asset should be.
“A tax that would reduce visitor numbers would be a good thing, not a bad thing.
“We’re so pathetically grateful when people come here – we should be charging them more for it.”
It’s not that simple for the tourism industry, which has made a substantial submission to the council against the visitor tax scheme.
Tourism Industry Aotearoa said the plan would unfairly target just one sector that makes up less than 10 percent of Auckland’s visitor economy. The group points out three-quarters of visitors to the city stay with family or friends, or accommodation that would be skipped by the tax, such as Airbnb.
The idea that the tax would be easily recovered by accommodation providers was “quite simply wrong”, it said. TIA said it is a myth that the sector is “creaming it” during the tourism boom, and the levy was likely to send some small operators to the wall.
“This targeted rate would be a disaster for Auckland and must be withdrawn,” said TIA chief executive Chris Roberts.
TIA argues the tax is a targeted rate based on capital value, levied against a sector which already pays more than its fair share through the commercial/residential rate differential.
“All Aucklanders benefit directly or indirectly from the economic value visitors bring to the city. They also get a social return. Many of the events supported by ATEED are mainly enjoyed by locals. These include the Lantern Festival, Pasifika, Diwali, the Waka Festival, Santa Parade and Pride Parade, which contribute to the social fabric of the city but result in very little increase in demand for accommodation.”
Auckland’s Chamber of Commerce has also protested fiercely over the tax. Having worked so hard – successfully – to tip the balance between what commercial premises and homeowners pay in rates, back towards businesses, it sees years of lobbying being eroded.
Chief executive Michael Barnett would rather see a border tax imposed on non-New Zealand passport holders coming into the country, saying it’s a fairer way to ensure tourists contribute.