Business group slams call for new Skye tourist tax

The Oban Times - - Lochaber Times - MARK ENTWISTE men­twistle@oban­times.co.uk

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.

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