Tourism industry claims DOC will be severely handicapped by funding cuts
The tourism industry claims that slashing $34 million from the Department of Conservation's budget allocation will severely handicap its work.
Tourism Export Council chief executive Lesley Immink said the lack of extra funding for DOC in Thursday's Budget was met with disbelief because of the department's role in attracting tourists to New Zealand.
"Considering DOC is the country's number one tour operator, and considering the $900m GST take from tourism last year. . . It seems ridiculous how they're being set up to fail. . . We empathise with DOC, but the funding being cut again beggars belief."
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Immink said the department could increase its income from concessions if it had the resources to enforce the payment of fees by commercial operators visiting the DOC estate.
"There's a whole lot of big tour companies knowingly operating illegally on the DOC estate. . . . There's private limousines, mini vans hired to take family groups around. There's a whole lot of ways that people cheat the system.
"Since 2009 not a single prosecution has occurred, even though they've caught repeat offenders."
Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA) chief executive Chris Roberts said the funding cuts announced in the Budget would have a significant impact on the department's core functions of protecting native species and encouraging recreation and tourism.
He noted that the Budget had increased spending on conservation policy advice by $638,000 to almost $13m, while cutting spending on facilities such as huts and tracks by $5m.
Funding for one-off projects such as removing wilding pines was welcome, he said, but DOC needed a permanent budget to do its job properly.
"The tourism industry makes a significant financial contribution to DOC through concession payments and corporate sponsorship to support its vital work protecting species and habitats. Before we start talking about taxing visitors to fund conservation, we need the Government to properly meet its obligations."
Roberts said he had been advised by the Minister's office that some unspent funds from this year would be carried over to next year so that there is no 'cut' in the money available to DOC.
"But no matter how you play with the numbers, DOC is woefully underfunded."