Business group slams call for new Skye tourist tax
ANY NEW tax to fund more public services such as extra toilets risks driving away visitors as the Highlands is already an expensive destination for tourists.
That was the warning this week from a professional body representing many small businesses which hit out at calls for the imposition of a new tax.
David Richardson, the Federation of Small Businesses’ development manager for the Highlands and Islands, was speaking after Skye businessman Roger Booth, who owns a food van at the Quiraing, was featured in BBC news reports calling for a small fee to be levied at the Skye Bridge to help pay for more public toilets and better car parking.
Mr Booth, who claimed he regularly cleans up mess left behind by visitors to Skye, as well as human waste on occasions, said a £1 per person tourist tax would help pay for more services.
Other local business owners were said to be in agreement with a tourist tax, or similar charge, while Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson said the local authority would need to speak to more businesses before it could make a judgement on the viability of any such move.
But Mr Richardson said taxing tourists is a bad idea. ‘The recent increase in visitor numbers to Skye and the northern Highlands has helped secure the futures of many marginal tourism businesses, extending their seasons and enabling some to expand and take on more staff. It has also encouraged new businesses to start up.
‘Fragile Highland communities are more secure as a result, though everyone acknowledges our infrastructure is struggling to cope. National and local governments already benefit from the tax revenues flowing directly and indirectly from tourism businesses and their customers, and they have a responsibility to support this vital industry by investing some of this income in the provision of essential infrastructure.
‘Tourists are fickle and numbers can go down as well as up for a variety of reasons. If we want a secure and stable Highland tourism industry, we must improve our product without making what is already a very expensive holiday destination more expensive.’
Meanwhile, Kate Forbes, SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, said she intends continuing her discussions on tourism infrastructure as part of the Skye leg of her summer constituency tour. Ms Forbes held a meeting in Portree in June, the beginning of a process to identify and find solutions to the pressures on the island caused by increases in tourism.
She is following that up with meetings and surgeries on the island this week, ahead of a visit from Scottish Government tourism secretary Fiona Hyslop later this year.
And Ms Forbes warned that Skye’s booming popularity as a tourist destination is placing ageing infrastructure under huge strain.
‘There has been disgusting behaviour in Skye this summer as people leave unpleasant presents because of lack of toilets,’ she said.
‘There is a different way of doing things. Look at Kyle, for example, where there are fully functioning toilets which are well-maintained and only require a small contribution by users.
‘This is something which I’d like to see across Skye. We desperately need to reverse the years of closing toilets.’
The Skye MSP said there has been no preparation for the success of tourism on Skye.
‘While we have been very successful in attracting visitors, there has been very little forward-thinking in terms of upgrading infrastructure.
‘If the problem is due to poor preparation over the years, then the solution will not happen overnight. It’s really not that difficult to recognise that roads, parking and toilets are three immediate priorities.’
Skye MSP Kate Forbes.