Taxing tourists to save our species

Taxing tourists to save our species

By Marie Brown & Geoff Simmons. The Dominion Post 17 May 2016.

It isn't often that turkeys vote for Christmas, but the tourism industry has done just that, stating they are open to charging visitors to fund infrastructure.

This is no doubt in the face of public pressure at the ever mounting tourist numbers and the smelly problems they leave behind. Prime Minister John Key has offered up $12m for local facilities.

However, the largest piece of tourism infrastructure we have in this country is not our public toilets. It is our natural environment, and that is similarly underfunded. A tourist tax could go a long way to solving these problems.

Through the Department of Conservation, the taxpayer currently spends just over $300m protecting our native species and maintaining things like tracks and huts. Meanwhile, tourism is our biggest export earner, tipping dairy at $13.5b. If we include domestic tourists the industry is closer to $30b.

Our main tourist attraction is nature - 41 per cent of visitors come here primarily for nature, and virtually all visitors (85 per cent) do a walk or trek while here. Walking has overtaken rugby as our national sport.

If you have an asset that generates a return – like your car, house or a machine - you invest in maintaining it. We're not doing that with our main natural asset - at the moment DOC funding is around 1 per cent of tourism revenue.

The needs are immense. Only DOC can comment on the shortfalls in hut and track maintenance, but we have some idea of the biodiversity challenge we face. New Zealand has the highest rate of threatened species in the world.

Around 81 per cent of our birds, 88 per cent of our reptiles and 72 per cent of our freshwater fish are endangered. Most of our native species are not found anywhere else in the world – we have a global responsibility. The problem is that we are still losing the war.

Recent Government funding should stop the decline in kiwi numbers, but most other species are still on the downward trend. For example North Island kokako occupied 9 per cent of our forest in the 1970s, but this is down to 2 per cent now. This loss happens in the remote back country, and demands action on a massive scale.

Read the full article here.

Last updated at 3:50PM on May 18, 2016