New Zealand to charge visitors €20 'tourist tax' to enter the country
New Zealand plans to charge visitors up to NZ$35, but are taxes the best way to tackle overtourism?
You’ve just travelled for 24 hours from London to New Zealand. To get there you’ve splashed a grand on flights, likely a fair wedge on a fortnight’s worth of accommodation, and then there’s the spending money...
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However, if the New Zealand government has its way, tourists will soon have to pay an additional compulsory fee of up to NZ$35 (€20) to enter the country.
Exit taxes are common in countries such as Cuba and Mexico, and indeed the United Kingdom via Air Passenger Duty (Ireland's Air Travel Tax was reduced from €3 to €0 in 2014). However entry taxes, unless sold as visas, are less common.
In a statement on the New Zealand government’s website, it says the purpose of the tourist tax is to ensure tourists “contribute to the infrastructure they use and help protect the natural environment they enjoy".
The tax will be paid through an Electronic Travel Authority process, similar to the ESTA system in the United States or eTA in Canada, and is estimated to raise up to NZ$80 million (€46.5 million) per year.
“There has been a surge in tourism in New Zealand in the last four years and this understandably puts a strain on infrastructure,” said Paul Carberry, a specialist travel advisor.
“Reports show that money raised from this project will be directed towards this and the ongoing conservation of native New Zealand animal and plant species.”
New Zealand is just one in a string of countries to introduce a tourist tax in recent years. A number of European countries charge fees to incoming visitors, including France, Italy and Spain.
In May this year, the Balearic Islands doubled the tax that they charge tourists, meaning those staying in luxury accommodation now pay $4 (£3) per person per night while campers are charged $1 (75p).
In response to the Balearic tourist tax hike, Michael Bayley of Royal Caribbean said: “Of course there are fees and taxes related to activity, which everybody is fine with. I think, though, when you start singling out industries and start putting specific taxes on [them], you start polarising opinion and it is never such a great idea,” reported TTG Media.
Tim Williamson of Responsible Travel said: “A tourist tax might be a possible solution to overtourism and may help to reduce demand but better still if the money raised is ring-fenced and directly benefits the local community affected by overtourism.”
On the face of it, introducing a tourist tax is a logical move for a government. It’ll raise quick and easy money, and so long as it’s not too high it is unlikely many tourists will be deterred. For someone who has committed to a trip to New Zealand, for example, an additional €20 is a mere drop in the Tasman Sea.
What's more, presumably many tourists will be happy to know their money is contributing to the conservation of plant and animal species that have been negatively affected by tourism - an industry they are actively participating in.
One challenge to the tourist tax model is one of fairness. By simply visiting a destination, eating out, paying to visit attractions and so forth, a tourist is already pumping money into the country’s economy. This, you could argue, is the tourist's positive contribution.
So there is a worry that a tourist tax is more opportunism than necessity - if you can take €20 from the pocket of every incoming visitor, why wouldn’t you?
Another challenge is that New Zealand’s tourism boom didn’t happen overnight and nor is it unexpected. According to official projections, visitor numbers in New Zealand between 2016 and 2022 are expected to rise by 5.4 per cent each year, rising from 3.1 million in 2015 to 4.5 million in 2022.
Presumably, when these projections were put together there were also assessments of the negative impacts of the increase in visitor numbers.
All of these countries to have introduced a tourist tax have a tourist board, the purpose of which is to attract new visitors. It is their responsibility to make sure that the number of incoming tourists is sustainable, in terms of infrastructure capacity, environmental impact and the quality of life for locals. If it isn't, they should either stop trying to lure in new visitors or develop a strategy based around promoting alternative destinations that would benefit from a boost in footfall.
To put it another way - if Disneyland sought to increase its visitor numbers by 50 per cent, making the whole experience worse as a result for both staff and visitors - and it was clear this was always going to happen - is it fair to charge more for each visitor to mitigate the impact?
Clearly the footfall should not have been increased before the park invested in a shiny new Space Mountain in a corner of Disneyland fewer people usually visit.
The task of tackling overtourism is a complex one, and there's no straightforward solution. No doubt tourist taxes can have positive benefits as a retrospective move.
But there's definitely an argument that it’s on governments to keep tourism at a sustainable level through better planning and tourist management, rather than allowing the flow to continue and then ask tourists to plaster over the wounds once they're already open.
Tourist Taxes: For accommodation in Europe*
Vienna and Salzburg: 3.02 per cent of price of room per night
Antwerp: €2.39 per night
Bruges: €2.00 per night
Brussels: Depends on hotel capacity - ask at hotel.
Ghent: €2.50 per night
Prague: 15 Kč (£0.51) per night
Lyon: from €0.83 to €1.65
Nice: from €0.83 to €1.65
Paris: from €0.20 to €1.50
Berlin: 5 per cent of price of room per night
Hamburg: from €0.50 to €4
Athens: from €0.50 to €4
Budapest: 4 per cent of price of room per night
Florence: from €1 to €5 per night
Milan: from €2 to €5 per night (50 per cent less during August)
Rome: from €3 to €7 per night
Amsterdam: 5.5 per cent of price of room per night
Lisbon: €1 per entering visitor
Barcelona: from €0.45 to €2.50 per night
*Data from Globehunters.com