An unofficial proposal by the Tourism Minister to charge international visitors a “green tax” has already received the cold shoulder from the industry.

Damien O’Connor is understood to have been in talks with industry members about an environmental levy to “test the waters”.

He declined to talk further about the idea to the Business Herald but told industry publication Inside Tourism last week that a levy on inbound visitors would be one way of financing the protection of the environment they come to see.

“There is a strong view across all sectors that there should be a user pays regime. I think tourists wouldnot mind paying into a fundthat directly contributes to environmental protection, given our marketing brand and their expectations,” O’Connor told Inside Tourism.

“New Zealand trades off its clean, green image and markets itself as being 100 per cent pure.

But the proposal has not been welcomed by the industry.

Trevor Hall, chief executive of Tourism Holdings, New Zealand’s largest listed tourism operator, described it as dangerous.

How can we tax someone to look after the environment when it’s clear we are not giving it our best shot?”

Hall has long been a critic of New Zealand laws which allow tourist operators to import older vehicles from Korea with higher emissions to drive tourists around New Zealand.

He said New Zealand was a long way off being able to tax visitors for its green image.

“New Zealand is positioning itself as 100 per cent pure. We have to match that branding otherwise the results will be catastrophic. We have to take a long, hard look at ourselves first.”

A spokeswoman for the Tourism Industry Association said a green tax on tourists was one option that could be explored but the association did not wish to comment without knowing more about the details.

O’Connor is expected to bring up the issue at the Tourism Industry Association board meeting next Wednesday.

He has said he will not pursue the idea without support from the industry.

This is not the first time he has proposed a tax on international visitors.

In 2006 O’Connor wanted to tax Auckland visitors to help to payfor the now defunct waterfrontrugby stadium. That idea wasstrongly opposed by the tourismindustry and was criticised as penalising visitors rather than encouraging them to come to New Zealand.

O’Connor’s proposal follows a recommendation from the independent rates inquiry last year that an international visitors environmental levy be considered.

It projected a tax of between $10 and $25 a person could raise revenues of between $24.5 million and $61.3 million a year.

The levy could then be channelled to local authorities through the already established Tourism Demand Subsidy Scheme, which is administered by the Ministry of Tourism.

It proposed that the levy be part of a visitor’s ticket price. The levy would be in addition to a departure tax which is already charged to both New Zealanders and visiting tourists.

From next month, departure tax will be included as part of the ticket price for those leaving through Auckland Airport.