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Business leaders speak out against idea of Highland tourist tax

By Gregor White

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Should tourists have to pay more to enjoy the Highland scenery?
Should tourists have to pay more to enjoy the Highland scenery?

Highland Council has launched a consultation process to gather the views of the tourist trade, public and visitors on the thorny subject.

The region currently welcomes around four million overnight visitors a year and, depending on how it is administered, the council believes a tax on them could generate £5-10 million a year.

Supporters of the scheme say this money could be used to address infrastructure problems, such as on roads, caused by the high volume of users.

Councillor Allan Henderson, chairman of the council’s environment, development and infrastructure committee, said: “The council needs to decide what is better for our region – a levy with its potential positive and negative impacts, or no levy, avoiding potential negative impacts but limiting possible investment and therefore leaving the region with the problems we currently face.”

Some of Inverness’s leading business figures have already made their opposition clear.

Economic consultant Tony MacKay said: “Tourists already pay a high 20 per cent tax through VAT. Hotels, tourist-related shops and other businesses also pay business rates.

“I understand the problems caused by the current boom in tourism, particularly on the North Coast 500 route, and the need for more investment in public services such as toilets, but I am sceptical about what the tax revenues would actually be used for.”

Emmanuel Moine chairman of Inverness Hotel Association also said he thought any tax could do more harm than good.

“This is going to send the wrong message to our visitors and make us less competitive in a tourism market already difficult and uncertain due to Brexit.

“While tourism is the top recruiter in the Highland and Islands, my feeling is that we are doing our best to kill it.”

An online questionnaire is available at Highland.gov.uk/TVL

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