Councils consider hotel tax on tourists: Visitors may be charged pounds 1 levy per night

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The Independent Online
MILLIONS of tourists may be asked to pay a tax to meet the extra costs to local authorities of providing visitor facilities.

Tourists could be asked to pay a special tax of about pounds 1 per night if they stay in English hotels under a plan to be examined by councils.

The idea for a tourist tax was first mentioned by the Government in 1991 when it launched a consultation paper on the council tax. Ministers suggested that tourists could be asked to pay towards any extra costs incurred by councils which catered for large numbers of tourists.

The Association of Metropolitan Authorities discussed a draft paper on the subject last week. It agreed to publish it as a discussion document, and will seek the views of district councils and county councils on the idea of a tax.

According to latest government estimates, there are about 925 million 'visitor nights' in England each year. 'If the tax were set at pounds 1 per night on all overnight visitors Devon could raise pounds 38m, Westminster pounds 29m, Birmingham pounds 7m, Manchester pounds 5m, Leeds pounds 4m and Cumbria pounds 16m,' the paper says.

The actual yield would depend on how the tax was collected - perhaps at only some hotels rather than all places where visitors spent the night. People who stayed with friends would be exempt from the tax, if only because of the difficulty of collection.

The argument for taxing tourists is that some councils can only put on facilities for the arts and tourism by cutting expenditure for local taxpayers - money which would otherwise have gone on education or caring for the disabled. In many other countries, tourist taxes are commonplace.

Any tax would be likely to be at the discretion of each local authority - though this might price some destinations out of the market if competing areas decided not to levy a tax.

There might be a case - says the paper - for a transit tax on passengers or goods for authorities where there are major ports, toll bridges or tunnels.

A spokeswoman for the British Tourist Authority said that last year there were more than 18 million tourists from abroad, who spent pounds 7.6bn, not including fares for airlines or ferries. Tourist taxes would not lead to any improvement in facilities and the UK would become uncompetitive in terms of other countries.

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