Tourism lobby wants cheaper travel tax for NZ visitors

AN AUSTRALIAN tourism lobby group has called for a tax on international tourists to be halved for New Zealand visitors and for a Productivity Commission inquiry into the passenger movement charge.

The $55 charge on international tourists leaving Australia was aimed to support airport and customs operations, but the vast majority currently goes back into Australian Government general revenue.

While a 17% increase in the charge was averted earlier this year, Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive John Lee this week called for the charge to be halved, specifically for the biggest source of short-haul flights to Australia - New Zealand.

He said the funds raised by the tax should also be returned to the border control operations it was originally designed to fund, rather than bolstering the Commonwealth's surplus by some $560 million this fiscal year.

"The charge is a tax on tourism which places a disproportionate burden on visitors to Australia from short-haul destinations like New Zealand, our number one source market for international visitors," Mr Lee said.

"We have made repeated calls for the charge to be halved for visitors from New Zealand as an acknowledgment of the relationship between the two countries and of its high cost relative to trans-Tasman airfares.

"We warned that raising it would add to factors which are reducing Australia's competitiveness as a destination and lead to a fall in arrivals from New Zealand."

Mr Lee said since the charge was increased on July 1, arrivals from New Zealand fell 4.5% in July, and a further 2.4% in August.

"Reducing the inequity for short-haul visitors will have a positive impact on international visitation to Australia, including from Asian countries Australia is targeting for inbound tourism growth over the coming years," he said.

"We estimate that the charge currently reduces spending by inbound visitors by $814 million a year and that applying it in a more equitable fashion would result in significant benefits to the broader Australian economy."

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