Simon Calder: Venice - city of culture, cuisine and tax collection
The man who pays his way
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Saturday 27 August 2011
Tourists exploit the world. We demand the right to delve ever deeper into the fascinating fabric of landscapes, cities and treasures, enjoying free access to everything from Tate Modern to the wilderness of Patagonia. But now authorities around the world are taking advantage of our hunger to make the most of the planet, and travellers are increasingly being seen as a soft touch.
In the olden days, when changing £500 turned you into an instant lire millionaire, the Italians sought to lure holidaymakers from the UK by offering a Byzantine system of petrol coupons. Through the AA, British motorists could obtain fuel at a discount in certain parts of Italy, which at least allowed us a feeling of financial superiority despite our painfully obvious driving inferiority.
How the world changes. Starting this week, Venice now charges an imposta di soggiorno of up to €10 per room per night. The tourist tax (or, if you prefer, pound of flesh) applies on an arcane scale, The levy depends on the quality of accommodation and the age of the travellerl an aesthete might suggest that the age of the accommodation and the quality of the traveller would be a fairer basis.
pppThe Venetians evidently took encouragement from the Romans and the Florentines, who encountered little obvious resistance to their hotel taxes introduced this year.
Guests at the Hotel Danieli are being told that the €5 per person per night levy is "to finance tourism, the maintenance of cultural heritage sites and the environment as well as public services". Anyone who can afford the €635 double room rate being charged last night for a standard room in the exquisite converted palazzi adjacent to St Mark's Square is unlikely to baulk at the extra €10.
But Ted Wake, who runs the upmarket specialist Kirker Holidays, says: "As a PR exercise, the officials who run these elegant Italian cities have scored 0/10. If you speak privately to hoteliers, they tend to despair – and then mention how frustrating Italian bureaucracy can be."
The red tape for accommodation providers in Venice will increase – and you can expect the administration costs to be passed on to guests. On the 108 nights in the year classed as "low season", the owner of a budget campsite will be obliged to collect, and pass on, the princely sum of three euro cents from each adult guest (plus an extra 1.5c from under-16s).
No doubt the discerning travellers to whom Mr Wake caters will still travel to Venice, Florence and Rome to, in his words, "marvel at the astonishing art, architecture and culture created by previous brilliant generations of Italians – as well as the sublime cuisine and great sense of style in 21st-century Italy". Yet British travellers may already be railing against irritating taxes: relative to Italy, business to Spain is 15 per cent up. The authorities in Madrid and the regions are taking a longer view, seeking to attract extra visitors rather than finding new ways to fleece existing travellers.
The latest destination to dip deeper into holidaymakers' pockets is Jamaica, which this week doubled its "Tourist Enhancement Fee"; from October onwards all tickets to the island will cost $10 more. The odd £6.50 will surely not deter travellers from exploring the beaches and mountains of this beautiful island. But further protests by Jamaica's tourism minister against the unfairness of Britain's Air Passenger Duty – which penalises passengers to the Caribbean – may fall on deaf ears.
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The Maldives government is so pleased with the new 3.5 per cent "Tourism Goods and Services Tax" that it plans to raise it to 6 per cent next year, and to 10 per cent from 2013.
"Prices in the Maldives are going up at the same time the UK traveller is looking for price reductions," says David Kevan, of the upmarket travel business Chic Locations. As visitors to the Indian Ocean archipelago quickly discover, they comprise a captive market due to the policy restricting each island to a single resort. One prospective client said: "I know I can afford the holiday, but I'm less sure I can afford to enjoy it." He went to Mauritius instead.
"At the top end, you are looking at rates of at least £350 per night," says Mr Kevan. "Add main meals at £40 each per person, then the tax, and you need a large budget to be happy."
UK holidaymakers have always enjoyed formidable commercial muscle, thanks to our sheer numbers and inclination to explore the world. Are we now being outbid to the Maldives by other nations? David Kevan believes so.
"Arrivals from Russia and India are growing, and new air routes from Singapore and Malaysia are aimed at the upscale China market, who are selecting hotels at the very top end."
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