Queenstown, New Zealand tourist tax: Locals vote for bed tax to help with overcrowding

Faced with a flood of sightseers each year, the residents of the poster-child town of New Zealand's tourism boom have overwhelmingly called for a tax on tourists.

With a population of about 40,000 residents, picturesque Queenstown, in the country's South Island, last year played host to 3.3 million visitors.

Like other, smaller towns around the country, the lakeside resort centre and surrounding district have grappled with how a tiny local tax base can pay for increasingly tourist-crowded amenities while benefiting from what has become New Zealand's biggest export industry.

On Friday, the area's mayor celebrated as provisional results from a referendum held this week revealed more than 81 per cent of residents backed a levy on visitors by way of a bed tax.

"We're just starting to creak a little at the seams and we need to future-proof the place," mayor Jim Boult said.

"[Our residents] think it's completely unfair they are having to shoulder the infrastructure spend for the jewel in the crown of New Zealand's largest industry themselves ... We've been looking for a way to share the load."

Long-term residents in recent years have complained the town has changed beyond recognition as tourists congest the area.

Amid public outcry, the district last year rejected a proposed expansion of its airport, and Boult said the community wanted fewer tourists who spend more. He also worried the country's reputation with tourists could be damaged if infrastructure funding falls short.

Mayors around New Zealand have been calling for more ways to fund their needs and the central government last year announced it would begin taxing international visitors upon arrival.


In the year to April 2018, about 3.8 million overseas tourists visited the country of about 4.8 million. Australians make up 39 per cent, or nearly 1.5 million, of visits - although they're exempt from the arrival levy.

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief Chris Roberts said the industry agreed funding was vital amid the boom, but would prefer to see it done by central government and by redistributing tax earned from overseas visitors.

"The accommodation providers in the district are legitimately concerned about the potential impact on their businesses," he said.

"We agree that something has to be done. If Queenstown is not working properly then the rest of New Zealand suffers ... There is definitely a case for central government assistance."

The levy now has to be cleared by the central government. In a statement, Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford said once the results were finalised he would work with local officials to come up with a proposal.


See also: Twenty reasons to visit Queenstown and its neighbours

See also: Overrun by tourists: Countries with worst 'overtourism' named