Leader Comment: A taxing question for the tourism industry

SNP government and councillors in dispute over levy so no surprise to see idea '˜booted into the long grass'.

The headlines have Edinburghs pavements struggling under the weight of the hordes. Picture: TSPL
The headlines have Edinburghs pavements struggling under the weight of the hordes. Picture: TSPL

Long-standing calls for Scotland to consider introducing a so-called “tourist tax” reached a cacophony in a summer which saw soaring visitor numbers and rising dismay in some quarters.

The headlines have Edinburgh’s pavements struggling under the weight of the hordes, Skye witnessing seemingly never-ending tailbacks… it’s almost as if this isn’t a good thing. In fact, in the main, it is a very welcome situation indeed.

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More visitors after all mean more jobs, and more money in the economy.

What is not quite so easy to agree on is how to manage the current boom, especially around the thorny issue of the “Transient Visitor Tax”.

The SNP-led Edinburgh council wants to press ahead with a tax and it’s easy to see why. Tourists are unlikely to quibble with a couple of quid on their room bill (especially as such a system is commonplace across Europe) but it could raise millions for city coffers and presumably help do things like fix the roads.

The SNP government, though, has resisted such a move and the tourism industry is fiercely opposed. The Scottish Tourism Alliance, the main independent voice of the sector, went as far as warning Nicola Sturgeon that the possible introduction of a tourist tax was a bigger concern for the industry than the impact of Brexit.

And so we reached something of an impasse along with the embarrassment for the First Minister of blue-on-blue (or in this case yellow-on-yellow) combat between 
Holyrood and the City Chambers.

The solution presented itself at the Scottish Tourism Alliance conference yesterday where Ms Sturgeon seemingly deployed the popular kicking-into-the-long-grass option of announcing a consultation.

But far from being a delaying tactic, this does appear to be a sensible move which should put the issue of whether there is support for charging a levy to bed once and for all.

Crucially it has the support of the tourism industry and so will presumably make any conclusions easier to swallow. Key questions remain, not least for the balance sheet of Edinburgh City Council, including how long the consultation and when a decision is likely. There will also be demands to ensure it is completely independent and transparent given the entrenched positions.

To tax or not to tax? Perhaps we will soon have an answer.