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Bed tax battle lines

By Ellie Stevenson

Two accommodation giants are taking different approaches in the bed tax debate, as a lobby group of local providers up the rhetoric on social media.

Airbnb are proving perhaps unlikely allies for Jim Boult, having been under the gun from council in the past few years.

Commissioners watered down a controversial proposal to restrict visitor accommodation in parts of Queenstown, saying there was no evidence to suggest it affected the rental market.

Still, the firm’s head of public policy for Australasia, South Asia and South East Asia, Brent Thomas, is proving he’s not one to hold a grudge.

“We are supportive,” he says of the proposed five per cent visitor levy, placed solely on the accommodation sector, in effect a room tax. Queenstown ratepayers have until June 5 to vote in a non-binding referendum on the visitor levy for the district.

“This is something we see around the world, and support in different places around the world,” Thomas says.

“We’ll be continuing to work with our hosts in support of mayor Boult’s proposal. We think it’s fair, it’s been proven to work elsewhere, and we think it’s sustainable.”

He says hosts are locals too, and many think the 34 international visitors to every one resident can contribute more.

Meanwhile, Bookabach has a more cautious approach.

General manager Peter Miles says: “We believe short-term rental is a scalable commercial activity that varies from mum and dads covering some of the running costs associated with owning a holiday home through to fully-fledged businesses designed to maximise financial returns.

“As such, our chief concern is that any tourism levy scales appropriately and has a low compliance burden so as to not drive out mum and dad operators.”

He believes there should be rates-relief, ideally by rating such properties as residential. Queenstown’s council has indicated that could be on the cards.

Miles says there are also concerned the levy applies solely to the accommodation industry, rather than a broad-based levy aimed at the sector, including providers, tour operators, car rental companies and airlines.

That view is echoed by the Lakes District Tax Equity Group, led by Villa Del Lago Hotel owner Nik Kiddle and his wife Charlotte Mills.

Mills has been vocal on various community social media pages over recent weeks, stoking support for a ‘no’ vote. They believe the levy should also target attraction providers.

Boult says the goal of the levy is to target tourists, rather than locals.

“Accommodation is about the only thing in town that locals don’t actually use,” Boult says.

“This is not a new model, it is done all around the world.”

He says it would be difficult to determine what is and what’s not an attraction provider in Queenstown.

“What’s Fergburger, for example?”

Paul Taylor – 27th May 2019

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