Bring forth the Tourist Tax
POSTED ON September 7, 2022 BY Terry Levinthal
The tourist tax should be ringfenced for environmental, conservation, or other projects relating to the improvement of Edinburgh’s places. A dedicated External Advisory Panel comprising heritage, resident and tourism organisations should be formed to provide advice and guidance [for projects and programmes].
It was announced yesterday (6 September 2022) that Scotland’s First Minister has agreed to the City of Edinburgh Council being the first local authority to be permitted to implement a “Tourist Tax”. https://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/politics/edinburgh-tourist-tax-nicola-sturgeon-unveils-plans-for-visitor-levy-in-scotlands-cities-3833620.
We welcome this.
In 2019, the Cockburn Association responded a Scottish Government consultation on a proposed visitor levy. Overall, we supported and continue to support the introduction of Transient Visitors Levy, or Tourist Tax as it has become known, for Edinburgh.
However, we argue that it must not be considered as General Revenue for the Council but should be ringfenced for environmental, conservation, or other projects relating to the improvement of Edinburgh’s places. In almost all surveys undertaken, visitors (both domestic and overseas) cite the historic townscape and historic architecture of Edinburgh as their main reason for coming to the city. Creating a link between the tourist tax and the improvement of the qualities of the city that encouraged them to visit represents a positive, constructive approach that benefits both residents and tourists alike.
In the 2019 consultation, the Cockburn suggested that the levy should concentrate on visitor accommodation including hotels, guest houses, B&Bs and Short-Term Holiday Lets but avoid day visitors as the complexity of taxing these is too challenging and probably counterproductive.
In addition, cruise ships should be subjected to the levy due to the particular impacts that they create.
In terms of the management of the tourist tax and setting down the projects and programmes that it could support, this should be determined by the local authority. However, a dedicated External Advisory Panel comprising heritage, resident and tourism organisations should be formed to provide advice and guidance. It is essential that the benefits of the new tax have as wide a buy-in as possible so civic and sectoral input into how the levy is spent is crucial, in our view.
In all processes, they must be open and transparent. To this end, the Cockburn advocates an annual report on activity supported by the Tourist Tax. A summary version might be made available accommodation venues to highlight the projects and outcomes that the levy has supported. In this way, tourists can see the direct link between the tax and the improvements to the historic fabric of the city – the reason why they have come here in the first place.
Much has been said about the impact such a tax will have on tourism in the city. We think that this is overstated. Many cities across the world have such levies in place already like Paris, Rome, New York City, Florence, Venice, Milan, Barcelona and Bruge to name a few. There is no denying the fact that it will add to the cost of visiting Edinburgh, but no more than the cost of a pint or two. If properly managed and targeted to improving the heritage and special landscape of the city for all, it will bring positive benefits for visitors and residents alike.