Tourism leader's tax plan full of bed bugs

MIKE YARDLEY
Last updated 05:00 22/10/2013

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Mike Yardley

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OPINION: I'm a little surprised that the great helmsman of Canterbury Tourism, Tim Hunter, is calling for visitors to be clobbered with a tourist tax, or bed tax, in a bid to help the city council assume ownership of the glittering new convention centre.

The Government has magnanimously committed to fully funding the $284 million project and installing the management operation for the facility.

I am at a loss to understand why Hunter thinks it's so important for the city council to have command and control of the centre.

Frankly, I wouldn't be bothered if the Government eventually hocks it off to private enterprise. The fewer major facilities the ratepayer is financially liable for, the merrier.

But Hunter's broader pitch for a localised tax on tourists is generating understandable gales of blowback. We should be embracing Christchurch-bound visitors, not assaulting them with another greedy, grasping and unnecessary cash-grab. Just look at the snaggle-toothed tollgate Christchurch Airport has become.

In addition to their sky-high parking charges, landing fees for airlines are going through the roof (earning the attention of the Commerce Commission), and last year's thumping hike to commercial passenger vehicle levies has sabotaged complimentary shuttle services and ratcheted up taxi fares. But in the event a bed tax is imposed on visitors to Christchurch, administering such a levy, on a localised level, would be incredibly problematic.

The city council would have to deploy a joyless squadron of beady-eyed officials to check the books of hundreds of accommodation providers, to ensure they're handing over the dosh.

What about the glaring inequities of a nightly bed tax? Would a German backpacker dossing down in a $30 bunk bed in Addington be stung the same levy as an Auckland executive luxuriating in his $500 suite at The George?

And how an earth would this noxious little bed tax apply to the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Christchurch who stay with friends and family? Would Aunty Floss and Uncle Fred have to invoice their guests, in the name of civic duty?

The only argument that I think can be credibly made, in defence of this tax, is if it was firmly focused on helping to cover the annual operating costs of the convention centre.

If that is the case, this nominal $10 levy should be directly imposed on convention users - not the general visitor. It's also worth bearing in mind that our region's multibillion-dollar tourism industry already rakes in several hundred millions of dollars of GST revenue, for the public coffers. Give the visitor a break.

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