Visitor Levy in Edinburgh – Cockburn Comments

POSTED ON January 12, 2024

The Levy must be used to ameliorate the impacts of overtourism, not increase them

The City of Edinburgh Council has asked the public for views on the proposed tourism tax, what it should be used for, and at what level it should be set.  A summary of the Cockburn’s position can be found below.

Percentage or flat rate?

The Cockburn prefers a percentage of accommodation price as it is proportionate in implementation.  We also suggested consideration of a variable rate depending on accommodation type.  For example, Short-term Let accommodation could be set at 7% in reflection of the impact that such accommodation has on the city such as housing stock, refuse collection, etc.  At the other end of the scale, hostels for backpackers and lone travellers might be only 2%, reflecting the nature of that tourist market.

Who should Benefit?

Visitor Levy spend should be targeted to address the impacts of tourism on residents and the local environment.  And it should be used to support the main reasons why visitors come to Edinburgh – its historic architecture and historic townscape.  For example, over 70% of all traditional buildings within the World Heritage Site have a critical repair need.

The levy could be used to help maintain the historic fabric of the city at a time when public investment in it is falling. Investing in the enhancement of civic spaces and open space should also be a primary purpose of the levy as it benefits both residents and visitors alike.   The Cockburn suggests that we should be cautious about using such a levy to support commercial businesses and enterprises. This includes the festivals, who boast at being the world’s largest ticketed event.

Other reasons to support Visitor Levy?

The tourism and event sector in Edinburgh has caused considerable damage and disruption to civic life.  Whilst the Cockburn agrees that they are critically important to the city, their value to the overall economy of the city is overstated.  This point was well-set out by our former Chair, Professor Cliff Hague in his Annual Lecture address in 2020, “Whose Festival is it Anyway?” – see here

Also, Edinburgh has suffered and continues to suffer from the chronic under-management of tourism and events-led tourism activities.  In 2018, the City Council recognised the increasingly negative reaction of the population towards tourism to the extent that it should be considered a “strategic risk” to the City Region.

As such, the Levy must be used to ameliorate the impacts of overtourism, not increase them.

Visitor Levy Survey

The Council’s survey is open until Friday 17 January 2024.

Access the survey here:



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