‘Stunning’ Rakiura will draw tourists despite visitor levy increase, councillor says

Stewart Island’s visitor levy is expected to treble – but it will be phased in.

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Stewart Island / Rakirua Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

The $5 levy has been in place since 2013 and was aimed at easing the burden of tourism on the community.

But figures from the Southland District Council suggested it would fall significantly short of covering forecast costs, prompting councillors to vote for a levy increase.

For the Southland District Council, the vote to raise the levy has been a long time coming.

They first started to suggest trebling the levy back in 2018.

Stewart Island/Rakiura Ward councillor Bruce Ford said the community was concerned if the levy rose to $15, it would scare off visitors.

“The community is genuinely concerned whilst we’ve been busy recently, we’re not sure how long that’s going to go, and we’ve been very lucky in that respect.

“The numbers have held pretty good. But I would be concerned myself that we will lose some numbers as the borders open.”

Councillor Margie Ruddenklau did not agree. “Don’t undersell that place. It’s stunning.”

Given the next review could be six years away, she did not believe increasing the fee to $10 or $15 was excessive and would help “to future proof the island”.

Councillor Christine Menzies suggested an amendment – increasing the levy to $10 next October and raising it to $15 in October 2025.

“If it’s left at six years, I’d be pretty uncomfortable if we vote for $10 today,” she said.

That was due to the expected shortfall between the levy collected and the amount that was needed to cover visitor related costs, she said.

The councillors hit pause on the levy discussions by mid-morning, opting for a break and different agenda items while council staff discussed whether a phased approach could work.

When it was given a green light, the phased approach received full support and councillors expressed some relief – even though it won’t be formally passed until next month.

Worry over impact on transport companies

Over on Rakiura, Ulva Goodwillie from Ulva’s Guided Walks was concerned about the impact on transport companies who add the levy onto their fares.

“People don’t really notice a $5 [fee]. But when they increase it another $10, it doesn’t allow our transport companies to put on their own cost of living increase.

“It’s a very big jump when people look at the fare coming to Stewart Island, and then they’re going to put a $10 increase on top of that, and then a few years later, a $15 increase on top of that.”

She wanted to see the council take a different approach instead of increasing the levy.

“So what I would like to see is the removal of quite a few of those highly priced projects and bring it down to every day living projects that you can save for.”

Aaron Joy from Stewart Island Backpackers believed the council always planned to push the increase through.

He wanted to know exactly where the funds were going.

“If you start putting money from the visitor levy – which they will do – into other projects then I’m sorry. This is where we, as residents, will draw a line.”

He wanted more community consultation before the levy was hiked to $15.

“Will it affect the visitors coming here? If it does, then I guarantee a few accommodation providers will start sending an account to the council for loss of income. We don’t know, but that’s an option.”

The Stewart Island visitor levy will be back on the council’s agenda next month when it is expected to be approved.

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