ACC changes lauded Tourism firms' levies lowered

JOHN EDENS AND BROOKE GARDINER
Last updated 11:07 23/01/2013

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Wakatipu tourism firms and niche adventure operators have won a major battle to reduce mandatory levies paid to the Accident Compensation Corporation.

Whitewater rafting companies, skifields and other adventure operators are set to benefit after Cabinet, last month, approved a reduction in the levy for "amusement and other" activities.

Shotover Canyon Swing general manager Matt Hollyer said the changes would save the company more than $10,000 a year.

"It was great we got a chance to have a really fair hearing . . . It's ended up in a result which is good for us and is based on them having a better understanding of our activity," Mr Hollyer said.

Operators were angered by Government increases in 2010, when employers were faced with hikes of 10 per cent or more to cover workplace accidents but "high risk" activities such as skifields faced 80 per cent increases. ACC also introduced experience rating, which calculates a component of levies based on the number of previous claims.

Some operators were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in levies when their accident or

injury actual claims payouts were much less.

The changes mean businesses classed as "amusement activities," which include tramping and canyoning, will be paying less, with the levy reduced from $3.48 each $100 of payroll to 84c each $100.

The 80 per cent reduction applies next financial year and is great news for the tourism industry as some operators were paying tens of thousands of dollars in levies.

Whitewater and alpine sports were reclassified in separate categories to reflect greater risk profiles and number of injury claims but the changes also mean reductions for these industries.

Queenstown Rafting general manager Tim Barke said while the company wouldn't save as much as some operators, they were appreciative of any saving offered.

"There has been just a small saving for us, from memory it is about 26c. It certainly helps," Mr Barke said.

Tourism Industry Association advocacy manager Geoff Ensor said it was a practical and sensible solution as many operators' risk-profiles differed but they were lumped in with each other in a common levy class.

"There were a number of activities that didn't look the same. It wasn't linked to the actual risk associated with them."

The association did a significant amount of work and ACC was pro-active with a project to assess the risk of all the activities that fell awkwardly within the Government classification, he said.

For some activities the risk was less than that applied by ACC, and skiing and commercial whitewater risk profiles were reduced slightly.

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Alpine and whitewater will be designated in separate categories for employer levies.

"What's exciting for the sector is these new classifications are based on claims and the actual risk."

Bungy jumping, canyoning and caving were previously classed alongside skiing and whitewater rafting.

However, the risk factor for a "procedural" repeatable activity such as bungy jumping was very different to skiing or whitewater rafting, he said.

Significant reductions were expected across the board for tourism operators.

The Cabinet response and reclassification was a sensible, risk-based analysis of tourism operations.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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