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DOC looks at new fees amid $76m boost

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 11/05/2017

The Department of Conservation has been given a $76m funding boost as it looks towards new ways of charging international tourists amid booming visitor numbers.

Conservation Minister Maggie Barry on Thursday announced the funding - spread over four years - aimed at helping the department upgrade a range of services and facilities.

The money would allow DOC to upgrade its computer systems to implement different fee structures for international tourists and locals for the first time, she said.

"Differential charging is something we've been talking about behind the scenes for quite a little while," she said.

"I think there is much more of an appetite than we acknowledge for international visitors who are used to paying for walks ... to pay a little bit more. And for New Zealanders who pay rates and taxes to get a discount on that."

The changes would be implemented by next April, she said.

"As to the differential rates, we haven't yet decided. We're talking to a variety of people."

Ms Barrie also announced the Department would be expanding its list of iconic "Great Walks" for the first time in 25 years with two new tracks - although no decisions have been made about where they will be and consultation hasn't yet begun.

DOC last week announced it was lifting the fees on huts on some of its Great Walks for the first time in five years, with a 35 per cent increase in hikers on the tracks in the past three years - meaning some were now at more than 90 per cent capacity over summer.

While the Green Party welcomed the funding for tourism facilities, it said there was still a large shortfall in the budget for DOC's core conservation and animal protection work.

Recreational lobby group Forest & Bird also said the funding was not enough to help threatened species.

"While DOC urgently needs help to cope with the enormous pressures created by the uncontrolled tourism boom, it also needs to be properly funded to do its core work, which is protecting our native wildlife and habitats," advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said.

WHERE DOC'S NEW FUNDING WILL GO

* $44.6 million of total for operations funding and $31.3m in new capital, including:

* $19.8m for upgraded tourist facilities

* $11.4m for improvements to DOC's online services, including new booking service

* $12.7m towards adding two new Great Walks trails

* $5.7m to develop "Great Short Walks" and "Great Day Walks"

* $23m for "improving visitor experiences"

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