The government’s $102m Tourism Infrastructure Fund has earned the ire of some industry and political interests and a wholehearted welcome from others.
The new fund comprises of $60.5m in new money plus $41.5m taken from the now-closed Tourism Growth Partnership innovation fund, which aimed to deploy $8m a year, and the heavily over-subscribed Mid-sized Regional Tourism Facilities Fund, which initially spent $3m a year.
Tourism Export Council chief executive Lesley Immink said the new fund was “an insult” to the industry.
“I’m underwhelmed. The reality is it’s $15m a year in new money for the next four years – $60m in total. That’s a bit of an insult at a time when we’ve got a boom happening in tourism,” said Immink.
“It sounds good initially but it’s a bit of an insult when you consider the government has committed $400m to fund irrigation schemes that are going to continue to pollute our waterways and the environment. I just think they’re being really short sighted.”
Her sentiments were echoed by the government’s political opponents with the Green Party calling the new fund “meagre”.
“Paula Bennett’s tourism fund is mostly a rehash of existing spending with a small top up. In total, it’s less than a quarter of the $100-$150 million the tourism industry says is needed every year,” said Green Party co-leader James Shaw.
“Tourism will become a poisoned chalice for the country if the government doesn’t make up for its massive underinvestment in basic infrastructure like wastewater, sewage and public toilets.”
Queenstown mayor and chairman of Real Journeys, Jim Boult, congratulated Tourism Minister Paula Bennett for yesterday’s announcement.
“As recently as last month this council outlined to the minister the extreme pressure that desirable visitor locations such as the Queenstown Lakes District are under to deliver quality visitor amenity,” said Boult.
“It is rewarding to see that the government has listened and responded swiftly to those concerns. We recognise the importance of the tourism sector to the economy but the burden of visitor cost cannot be borne by local communities alone.”
Tourism Industry Association chief executive Chris Roberts called the new fund a welcome step in the right direction.
“We realise that the government has to balance competing priorities and there will always be budget trade-offs. We are pleased to have the fund but would have liked it to have been bigger.”
He called on the government to invest on a scale in line with the $1bn of additional GST revenue earned by tourism since 2014.
“The TIF as currently funded will be able to do some of that job, but further initiatives will be required. The fund may need to be expanded in future if the demand is shown to be there.”
Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ), which has called for $1.4bn in tourism infrastructure spending, gave a qualified welcome to the new fund.
“We need to ensure the visitor experience remains an excellent one, and that communities are not disproportionately burdened with the cost of building, operating and maintaining the infrastructure needed to deal with huge influxes of people,” said LGNZ president Lawrence Yule.
“The Tourism Infrastructure Fund acknowledges growth is creating significant challenges for New Zealand. What started out as a $12m dollar fund last year is now $102m, so we are now on the right track towards addressing the issues caused by rising tourism numbers.”