Is it time for a tourist tax?
IN THE age of cheap air travel it is a question plaguing much of Europe - how to relieve the pressure of selfiestick carrying hordes on overcrowded tourism destinations without chasing away their cash?
Westminster Labour councillors have begun pushing for a “tourist tax” to be introduced in the inner London borough where millions of visitors every year pack busy Oxford Street, the West End and Trafalgar Square.
They say it could reap £25 million a year to pay for facilities used by tourists, including public toilets, parks, street lights and emergency services – as well as for the costs of policing illegal short-term letting.
The London Assembly backed such a tax for the capital last year – estimating it could raise £45m to £450m annually.
However, the idea of a hotel bed tax was met with alarm by the British Hospitality Association, which said it could threaten the industry.
Westminster Labour councillors’ announcement on Tuesday September 25 said cash raised could be funnelled into improving public amenities in the borough, singling out the West End’s “appalling” public toilets for a much-needed revamp.
Labour also wants the levy to pay for the council to police short-term letting trouble in Westminster’s homes.
Westminster City Council has recently begun a crackdown on illegal short-term lets following residents’ complaints.
While investigating homeowners suspected of breaching the 90-day a year limit earlier this year, it also found evidence of sex work, parties and overcrowding in some cases.
Labour’s figures listed around 450 hotels in Westminster providing 40,000 rooms, compared to about 3,600 Airbnb short-term lets in 2017.
The party suggested a tourist tax could provide revenue to be spent on policing unauthorised shortterm lets to address “unscrupulous landlords turning homes in to hotel rooms” for extra cash.
Labour city environment and management spokesman Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg said while tourism is a very important part of Westminster’s economy, keeping the city attractive and its public services running costs big money.
He said: “A small tourist tax would help to pay for the cost of providing facilities which tourists enjoy – keeping the environment clean and tidy, maintaining parks, street lights and open spaces, public toilets, policing and emergency services.
“In addition, the cost of more regular collections of rubbish could be financed by a small tourist tax and would transform the street scene across Westminster for everyone.”
Anti-tourist graffiti and marches against tourism in popular travel destinations like Mallorca reveal escalating tensions between the travel industry’s benefit for destinations’ economies, and locals’ desire to reclaim their public spaces.
It is not the first time the idea of a tourism levy has been raised in Westminster. The council’s reigning Conservative party considered adding a five per cent hotel bed tax in 2011, but later abandoned the idea.
Labour says the council would prepare a three-year strategy for how the tourist tax funds would be used, upon consultation with the local tourism sector and the public with the strategy reviewed annually.
Cllr Dimoldenberg said Labour would like to hear the views of local residents, amenity societies and businesses on the idea.
Westminster City Council declined to comment on Labour’s proposal.
Labour councillors are pushing for a tax on tourism in Westminster