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Bath: city of Roman origins, Georgian splendour… and Britain’s first tourist tax?

Council considering bed levy to boost local funds

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 09 January 2017 10:35 GMT

A Conservative councillor, Charles Gerrish, told BBC Radio Bristol that the local council is considering the introduction of a “tourist bed tax” for hotels and B&Bs to help shore up the finances of Bath and North East Somerset. The council is faced with £37m in cuts over the next five years.

Mr Gerrish, who is the Cabinet Member for Finance and Efficiency said: “We’re looking at options for generating additional revenue.

“If you go on holiday in Europe, in many countries when you stay in a hotel, you are asked to make a very small contribution to the local authority in addition to your hotel bill. When I stay in Italy, for example, I pay something like one euro per head per night.

“It is something we believe in an area that receives as many tourists as we do from all over the world, we ought to be allowed to consider.”

No other part of the UK is believed to collect such a tax, though the idea has been floated in both Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands.

The Balearic Islands of Spain spurred controversy last summer when it launched a tourist tax of up to €2 per person per night.

Many Italian cities impose much higher charges, with Rome adding €10 per night for a double room.

Bath has the UK’s highest hotel rates outside London. David James, Chief Executive of Visit Bath, urged the council: “Don’t be the first to do it,” and insisted that the money generated by any tax should be “ring-fenced back into tourism”.

Carla Brooks, proprietor of the Brooks Guest House close to the Royal Crescent, said: “I think it sends a really bad message. It says, ‘if you come to Bath, we’ll tax you for the privilege of coming’.”

The British Hospitality Association (BHA) opposes tourist taxes. Its chief executive, Ufi Ibrahim, has called for a reduction in VAT: “With political and economic uncertainty increasing it is more important than ever to ensure UK tourism can compete.

“The UK continues to have on average twice the tourism VAT rate across Europe.”

The BHA warned in December that the number of leisure tourists coming to the UK had declined for the second consecutive month, despite the expected “Brexit boost” from the fall in the value of the pound.

A spokesperson for the council later said: "The idea of a tourism levy is something that the Council originally proposed in its Budget a number of years ago. The idea of the original levy was to increase income and support investment in the City and surrounding area. Such a scheme requires a change in legislation by the Government.

"The Council has recently started to discuss the matter again with the Government, and is exploring the feasibility with other local authorities. However, no decision can be made without a change in legislation at a national level. Consequently, no such proposal forms part of the current Council Budget.

"As Bath welcomes such a large number of tourists from all over the world, it is sensible to consider the potential for increasing the Council’s income to help support local services, invest in the local area and address the financial challenges it faces."

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