The figurehead of Edinburgh’s tourism industry has warned the Scottish capital risks damaging its international reputation if it presses ahead with a bed tax.
Robin Worsnop, chair of the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group, expressed fears that the city was rushing into the scheme without carrying out proper research on whether it would deter visitors.
He urged the tourism industry to speak out on the contribution it already makes to the city’s economy through the number of jobs it supports and existing taxes that are paid.
Edinburgh City Council is hoping to raise around £15 million a year via a tourist tax or levy, with the money raised being possibly ring-fenced for festivals, events and marketing of the city.
Extra charges would be added onto hotel bills and could be altered to take advantage of peak periods like the Edinburgh Festival and the city’s Hogmanay celebrations.
Last year a major study into the long-term future of the festivals warned of the dangers of complacency and the risks of them losing “premier division status” if funding levels could not be maintained. Mr Worsnop, the chief executive of award-winning tour company Rabbie’s, admitted securing future investment for the tourism industry was one of the “greatest challenges for Edinburgh” in the future.
He told the annual Edinburgh tourism summit that the city’s global reputation could be adversely affected if it becomes the first in British to impose an additional charge on its visitors.
He questioned the need for Marketing Edinburgh and Festivals Edinburgh - two publicly-funded organisations which have come out in support of the proposed lobby.
The stance taken by ETAG - which represents more than 1500 tourism professionals, businesses and organisations - mirrors that of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, the national industry body, which has warned that a tourist tax could “damage” and “hinder” one of Scotland’s best-performing industries.
Mr Worsnop said: “We are made up of many small and medium-sized businesses who contribute significant sums to public coffers and the benefits of that activity stays within the communities we operate within.”
“We need to articulate the value we bring through the basket of taxes we contribute to - VAT at 20 per cent (which is at least twice the rate collected by most of our European competitors), business rates, PAYE, corporation tax and air passenger duty.
“Our competition is global and careful big-picture consideration needs to be given to the impact of putting extra costs onto private sector businesses.
“Tourism is everyone’s business and our visitors should be treasured for the choice they make to invest in our economy.
“However this debate is taking place behind closed doors and our industry is not being properly engaged around it.”