Time to tax Hogmanay, insist Edinburgh organisers

Potential cuts could mean celebrations are scaled back. Picture: Contributed

Potential cuts could mean celebrations are scaled back. Picture: Contributed

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ORGANISERS of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations want a New Year “tourist tax” to be introduced to protect the capital’s money-spinning events.

They want to ensure hotels are forced to pay out to help ensure the three-day festival is not scaled back in the face of spending cuts in future years.

The city council puts around £1.3 million a year into the capital’s festive events, with the bulk going on the Hogmanay party, expected to bring 75,000 revellers to Princes Street tonight.

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However, the city council and the events company which has staged the Hogmanay festival since it was launched 21 years ago have warned that the programme could be “compromised” in future years unless extra funding is found.

Steve Cardownie, the city’s festivals and events champion, accused too many businesses of having “short arms and deep pockets” when it came to supporting the New Year events.

Unique Events’ managing director Peter Irvine, who has been involved since the inception of the official celebrations, accused businesses of taking the three-day festival, which is worth more than £30m for the economy, for granted.

He said the event would be able to expand and attract more international acts if income from a visitor levy could be ringfenced for his programme.

Despite its huge global profile, the Hogmanay festival has had to be scaled back in recent years – the capacity of the main event on Princes Street has been cut from 100,000 to 75,000.

The calls for Edinburgh to benefit from a dedicated tourist tax have been made just days after it emerged hotel prices are hiked more in the capital than any other city in the world at Hogmanay, with the £241 average a rise of 146 per cent against the average cost in December.

Mr Irvine said: “Everybody visiting the city over the next few days is here because of this festival. Every hotel room is pretty much full and the rate is hugely increased, so the festival makes an awful lot of money for the city, but every year we’re struggling more and more to make it all happen.

“The costs go up and up, but what’s available to us stays the same, and we don’t want to put our prices up.

“I think people probably take Hogmanay for granted. They would think it is covered and possibly think it’s commercial, but it’s not, because it’s a festival and it’s about trying to make lots of it available to everybody.”

Mr Cardownie said: “Other cities have a tourist tax in one form or another. I’ve met overseas delegations who come here and they don’t believe that we don’t have a similar procedure.

“We’ve tried over the years to have some kind of voluntary procedure, but our overtures have been rebuffed. Hotels are the ones that primarily reap the benefit and yet their contribution is negligible. They have a history of having short arms and deep pockets.

“I don’t think we can leave things as they are. Our budget is under so much strain at the moment that people will ask questions on why we’re putting money into festivals and events when we’re taking it away from other things.”

Senior figures at the council have been lobbying the Scottish Government for years for permission to introduce what would be Britain’s first official tourist scheme, but have met resistance from ministers.

However, the latest plans would involve tourism employers being asked to vote for the introduction of a levy system.

James Fraser, deputy chairman of the Edinburgh Hotels Association and general manager of the Mercure Hotel on Princes Street, said: “A large percentage of the people staying with us over Hogmanay are going to be attending events which they paying for and are also likely to be putting considerable amounts into retail outlets.

“We do a lot of work throughout the year to promote the city for people to come and visit. I don’t think there is an argument to say they’ve nothing coming back in.”

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