Higher hut fees for tourists has 'merit'

MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD
Last updated 05:00 15/02/2014

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Charging tourists extra to use the facilities at national and conservation parks has not been ruled out by Conservation Minister Nick Smith.

His comments came in response to a proposal by Aoraki Conservation Board member David Round, who suggested it as a means to recover some of the lost funds from unpaid hut fees.

Dr Smith said the Government could consider it, but more research was needed.

"With the high dollar and competitive tourism market, we would not want to set anything at an unaffordable level," he said.

"There would also be administrative concerns - a lot of hut fees are on an honesty basis, and it would be time-consuming for Conservation Department rangers to ask every user for their passport."

However, Dr Smith said there was some merit in Mr Round's proposal of an international access pass in order to recover some costs.

"There already is a precedent ... we have visitor licences for hunting and fishing, which are slightly more expensive. I am open-minded, but I'm not advocating anything as such," he said.

Federated Mountain Clubs president Robin McNeill said several countries imposed special taxes or surcharges for foreign visitors.

"It can work, but the trick is to ensure the money is properly targeted. However, perhaps a better way would be for the Government to increase funding for conservation. It's not as if the money isn't there for it."

The organisation represents trampers and mountaineers, and has more than 15,000 registered members.

Mr McNeill said funding the upkeep of huts and facilities at conservation parks was a "perennial issue" among club members.

At Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, hut fees range from $5 per night (Ball Hut) to $30 per night (Mueller Hut).

Mr McNeill said many of the smaller back country huts did not accrue fees.

"The system for collecting fees is pretty fraught anyway. Trying to collect hut fees is a lot like trying to collect bread crumbs."

Mr McNeill agreed with Mr Round that DOC was "chronically underfunded", but Dr Smith said this was an exaggeration.

"I agree the funding has been tight, but compared to countries such as Australia and the US, the amount per taxpayer spent on conservation is favourable."

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- The Timaru Herald

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