Is it time for a tourist tax?

Hayes & Harlington Gazette - - News - By TALIA SHAD­WELL talia.shad­well@reach­plc Lo­cal Democ­racy Re­porter

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

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