Proposed Orkney visitor tax branded ‘crazy’ by residents

Orkney attracts thousands of visitors on cruise ships every year.
Orkney attracts thousands of visitors on cruise ships every year.
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It is home to some of Scotland’s most historic sights of natural beauty and attracts thousands of visitors every year - many of them visiting on cruise ships passing the north of Scotland.

But plans for a £3 “tourist tax” to cash in on the tourism boom in Orkney have been branded “crazy”, “utterly mad” and “just plain daft” by local residents - and Orcadians living outside of the islands.

The proposal by the newly-formed Orkney Conservation Trust aims to repair the wear and tear caused by an influx of visitors and claims the move could bring in around £500,000 a year for the island from cruise ship visitors alone.

Orcadians living away from home reacted angrily, saying they would be hit with huge additional costs when returning to see family and friends, while the Orkney Islands Council and the Orkney Tourism Group (OTG) said such a move would need to be “approached with caution”, and that neither organisation supported the initiative at this time.

The move comes just days after police warned that visitors to the Isle of Skye - which has recently mooted plans for a similar tax - need to book their accommodation in advance unless they want to “spend a night in their car” due to the high numbers of tourists visiting the island.

Social media users expressed their dislike of the plan.

Peter Sinclair said: “For god sake, you moan if there’s no visitors, now you want to tax them. Just be happy people are coming to Orkney, not the cheapest part of the world to get to.”

Bruce Scollay said: “Definitely no. I was home last weekend and it cost a fortune to travel to the islands. You might think it’s only an extra £3 a head but it all adds up at an already expensive trip “HOME”.”

Joey Fischler added: “I’m on my way up to Orkney just now, and it would be pretty gutting to be charged a tourist tax to visit the place where I was born, if it should come to that.”

David Bilcliffe, the man behind the idea for a “conservation tax” on Orkney, said that conservation charges were common at other popular visitor destinations around the world.

“There will be people that are against it for whatever reason, right or wrong, but I think in the majority most people realise that we can’t continue as we are — bashing the door of OIC and bashing Historic Environment Scotland,” he said.

“It’s about Orkney people coming together and saying how do we solve this? The argument has gone round and round, exacerbated recently by the huge influx of cruise passengers. We’re not going to wave a magic wand and solve all problems overnight, that doesn’t happen. But just like any journey, you have to take a first step and all we’ve done is taken a few people who are together, we’ve looked at it, researched it and suggested it could work, so let’s take a first step.”

He added: “It’s about getting those who aren’t residents, who come to enjoy Orkney, to make a contribution to retain and conserve the things we all know and love.”

A joint statement from the OIC and OTG said: “Initial early discussions have taken place with Mr Bilcliffe, who approached us to talk over a number of ideas on the merits or otherwise of trust arrangements for tourism in Orkney.

“But no detailed proposals to set up a trust have been put forward for formal consideration by Orkney Islands Council, Orkney Tourism Group (OTG), or the other agencies and organisations involved in developing a strategy for the future management of tourism in the county.”

It added: “It must be stressed that any proposal to charge people when they visit Orkney would be a sensitive matter, which would need to be approached with caution.”

According to the most recent Visit Scotland figures, Orkney attracted 142,816 overnight and day visitors in 2012 to 2013.

However, tourism has soared in the island in recent years, driven by a boom in cruise ship tourism. Orkney Islands Council’s Marine Services team announced earlier this year that the island was due to host 140 cruise ship visits over the summer months alone - with a potential passenger figure of 123,000.