Tourist tax con­demned

Hol­i­day firms at­tack levy

The Press and Journal (Moray) - - FRONT PAGE - BY JAMIE MCKEN­ZIE

Re­search by the Fed­er­a­tion of Small Busi­ness (FSB) has re­vealed 73% of High­land busi­nesses op­pose the in­tro­duc­tion of a po­ten­tial £10 mil­lion-a year tourist tax.

And three-quar­ters of the 253 busi­nesses sur­veyed across the north also said the in­tro­duc­tion of the levy – pos­si­bly at £1-a-night per bed – would have a dam­ag­ing im­pact on other lo­cal busi­nesses and economies.

Busi­ness own­ers say a tourist tax on top of al­ready high 20% VAT rates on ho­tel ac­com­mo­da­tion would push vis­i­tors else­where, while coun­cil lead­ers say it is a log­i­cal op­tion to raise rev­enue for ser­vices and in­fra­struc­ture to cope with ris­ing vis­i­tor num­bers.

But Amanda Frazer, FSB’s High­lands and Is­lands leader, said the strength of op­po­si­tion should come as a “wakeup call” to High­land Coun­cil and the Scot­tish Govern­ment, and that tax­ing vis­i­tors to “shore up bud­gets” will threaten the ex­is­tence of com­mu­ni­ties which de­pend on them.

She said: “Pas­sions are run­ning high, and rightly so, be­cause a new High­land tourism tax is bad for busi­ness, bad for lo­cal High­land economies, and bad for com­mu­ni­ties.

“Tourism hap­pens to be on the up at the mo­ment, but tourists are fickle and easy come, easy go. If they feel they are re­ceiv­ing poor value for money thanks to all the tax they have to pay, so­cial me­dia and word-of-mouth will en­sure this dam­ag­ing mes­sage spreads like wild­fire.”

Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties cur­rently do not have the power to in­tro­duce a tourist tax – and es­tab­lish­ing such a power would re­quire an act of the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment.

How­ever in Ed­in­burgh, which the FSB sur­vey re­vealed has sim­i­lar lev­els of op­po­si­tion, the coun­cil is press­ing ahead with a “busi­ness case” for its in­tro­duc­tion. Vis­i­tor num­bers dur­ing the busier months of Au­gust and De­cem­ber are a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem in the cap­i­tal.

The FSB ar­gues that a tourist tax works in other Eu­ro­pean coun­tries where there are re­duced VAT rates on ho­tel ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Ms Frazer said that, post Brexit, it is vi­tal the north’s key sec­tors can com­pete on the world stage on qual­ity, price and value for money, es­pe­cially if they want to tap into the grow­ing Chi­nese mar­ket.

She said the lo­cal author­ity should in­stead be call­ing for more money from the Scot­tish Govern­ment for im­prov­ing trans­port, dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture and hous­ing, and to help re­tain young peo­ple in ru­ral ar­eas.

High­lands and Is­lands MSP Ed­ward Moun­tain (Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tives) said: “Plac­ing a ‘tourism tax’ on ac­com­mo­da­tion in the High­lands would only be detri­men­tal and would prob­a­bly make vis­i­tors re­con­sider their des­ti­na­tion.”

Last night, High­land Coun­cil leader Mar­garet David­son said she would wel­come dis­cus­sions with busi­ness groups about some “strong tar­geted lob­by­ing” to seek re­duc­tions in VAT and rates.

In De­cem­ber, a re­port pro­duced by the lo­cal author­ity’s di­rec­tor of devel­op­ment and in­fra­struc­ture, Stu­art Black, said a £1-a-night levy on tourists at ho­tels across the north would raise £10mil­lion a year for in­fra­struc­ture.

The re­port stated that vis­i­tor num­bers to the High­lands soared by 18% to 6.1mil­lion be­tween 2012 and 2016, with the eco­nomic im­pact ris­ing by 34% to £1.2bil­lion.

The coun­cil’s vice con­vener Al­lan Hen­der­son, co-chair­man of a new Tourism Work­ing Group, said he can un­der­stand the FSB’s po­si­tion and ad­mit­ted heat one point was op­posed to the tourist tax con­cept. But he added: “A levy such as this al­lied to the Ru­ral Tourism In­fra­struc­ture Fund (£6mil­lion govern­ment fund) could trans­form how we treat our vis­i­tors who gen­er­ally ap­pre­ci­ate the green cre­den­tials of the High­lands.”

A Scot­tish Govern­ment spokesman said there are no plans to in­tro­duce a vis­i­tor levy on the tourism sec­tor, stress­ing it is al­ready sub­ject to the sec­ond high­est VAT rates in Europe un­der the UK Govern­ment.”

Pho­to­graph by Sandy McCook

CON­CERN: Amanda Frazer of the FSB warns a tourist tax will have a neg­a­tive im­pact.

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