Tourist tax risks causing ‘devastating’ reputational damage to Scotland, MSPs told

The Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers said it was the last thing the sector needs

The introduction of a tourist tax in Scotland risks causing “devastating” reputational damage to the country, MSPs have been warned.

Fiona Campbell, chief executive of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, said it was the “absolute last thing” the sector needs.

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She said operators are being squeezed by the cost-of-living crisis and have yet to see domestic bookings recover from the pandemic.

Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesPicture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

It came as MSPs on Holyrood’s local government, housing and planning committee began their scrutiny of plans to allow councils to charge a fee on overnight visitor stays.

The new fee would be a percentage of visitors’ accommodation costs, and would apply to those staying in hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, self-catering accommodation, campsites, caravan parks and boat moorings. The money raised would then be reinvested locally in facilities or services used by tourists.

Other European cities have introduced similar charges. However, David Weston, chairman of the Scottish Bed and Breakfast Association, told MSPs that taxes for tourists in the UK are already high.

“The other countries that have tourist taxes, all their other taxes are lower than ours,” he said. “The idea that £3 or £2 or £5 won’t be noticed is not correct in that context.”

Ms Campbell said the proposed charge “risks the competitiveness of the Scottish tourism industry”.

She said: "I think, frankly, this is the absolute last thing the small accommodation and self-catering sector needs. We’ve just come through a pandemic – I don’t need to explain that. We are being massively squeezed by the cost-of-living crisis. Recovery remains precarious.

"Our international visitors are coming back, but our domestic visitors are not. That is a real problem, because historically 70 per cent of our market has been domestic.”

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She added: “We are shrinking our sector and then taxing them on top.”

Ms Campbell warned “price-sensitive consumers” may choose to spend their holidays south of the border, rather than in Scotland.

“We need tourism,” she said. “We can’t just have this assumption that all tourism is bad. We are absolutely reliant as a nation on tourism, and we need to be welcoming. We are facing a reputational damage here that could be absolutely devastating for Scotland.”

Earlier, Stephen Young, head of policy at Scottish Land and Estates, told MSPs: "Now the messaging seems to be that somehow tourism in Scotland is a bad thing – that it needs to be licensed, it needs to be taxed, it’s not paying its way. We need to have a really strong message about the positive image of tourism, and that we’re definitely open for business and we genuinely want to grow this sector. That’s the danger here – that signalling that there’s a problem in tourism in Scotland, which there absolutely isn’t.”

MSPs were also told the new visitor levy could worsen problems with campervans and wild camping in rural communities. While campers and motorhomes staying on campsites would have to pay the proposed charge, those who simply park or pitch up would not.

Mr Weston said the proposals could “make certain behaviours worse, like campervans, like wild camping, which are going to have extremely negative impacts on rural areas”.

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