Tourism matters to Scotland. Around one job in every 12 is within the tourism sector – and more so in rural areas. In the year before the pandemic, there were around 17.5 million overnight visits with tourists spending an estimated £5.9 billion.
The Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill, which was published yesterday, will boost investment in tourism by giving councils the power to choose to apply a levy on visitors staying overnight. Such taxes are common across Europe, and indeed across the world, typically adding a few per cent to tourists’ accommodation bills. Under our proposals, all the revenue would be reinvested locally by councils on facilities or services that are for or used by visitors, enhancing the tourist experience and benefitting local communities and their economies. Importantly, local authorities will have to consult communities and tourism businesses on the use of such funding.
We have listened carefully to the concerns expressed by businesses, councils and others, and we will continue to work with the sector as the Bill progresses through parliament. This will include inviting representatives from the tourism industry, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) and other partners to join an expert advisory group that will consider how it could best be implemented, if passed, and develop national guidance for councils.
This would be the first time that councils in the UK have had the option to charge a visitor levy and further consultation at a local level will be required by councils looking to apply it. Councils will want and need to work in collaboration with local businesses to make sure a visitor levy works for all those involved.
I am confident that parliament will support our legislation. The prize is a discretionary power that will strengthen local democracy and enable councils to deliver real benefits to their tourist economy and build on Scotland’s reputation as a world-class tourist destination. This is about putting in place measures now that can deliver sustained investment in tourism in the future.
Tom Arthur is the Scottish Government minister for public finance and community wealth and the SNP MSP for Renfrewshire South