A 'transient visitor levy' has been mooted in Highland
A 'transient visitor levy' has been mooted in Highland

Scottish Highlands mulls introduction of tourist tax to help improve facilities

Council estimates a levy could bring in up to £10m a year

Helen Coffey
Monday 10 December 2018 18:25

The Highland Council has raised the possibility of introducing a tourist tax.

A “transient visitor levy” could raise between £5m and £10m a year, according to a new report from the council.

Councillors will vote on whether there should be a public consultation on the tax next week.

Tourism is the most valuable industry in Highland, a region in the Scottish Highlands; it attracts six and a half million visitors each year, and thousands of jobs in the area are related to tourism.

The levy, if introduced, would mainly be spent on improving infrastructure and facilities, which locals claim can no longer support the millions who visit.

The report said: “Highland is not alone in experiencing visitor pressures and seeking ways of raising income to try and address these.

“This has led to a number of UK destinations considering some form of visitor levy – most notably Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

“However, although the ability to raise a levy from visitors already exists in other countries, current legislation does not give local authorities the power to raise local taxes so primary or secondary legislation would be required before this could occur in Scotland.”

MSPs heard earlier this year that a tourist tax was needed to prevent visitors having to “go to the toilet behind a bush”.

Holyrood’s tourism committee was told visitor numbers were putting pressure on roads, car parks and public toilets, and that a tax would pay for improvements to amenities, ensuring tourists were not left with a bad impression of the area.

Chris Taylor, VisitScotland regional leadership director, told The Independent: “Tourism is hugely important to the Highlands, supporting 16,000 jobs in the region and drawing millions of visitors each year. Ensuring the country’s tourism industry remains sustainable requires a sensitive touch and while we welcome Highland Council’s desire to invest in facilities to improve the visitor experience, we are aware of industry concerns that a tourism tax could hamper growth and affect jobs.

“Value for money is one of the key factors consumers consider when making choices about their leisure or business trips. We know that other destinations already implement a visitor levy, however, this is against a backdrop of lower VAT levels. Any decision to introduce a tourism levy would have to be taken in the wider context of the total taxation on visitors.

He added: “We understand that public sector funding is coming under pressure and if a tourism tax were to be introduced in Scotland, VisitScotland would argue that the revenue raised should be reinvested in tourism and applied uniformly across the country.”

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