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Public to have its say over tourism tax

By Jamie Hall

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BUSINESS leaders have warned that any plans for a new tourist tax in the Highlands could have a negative impact on firms which rely on visitor numbers.

Highland councillors have agreed to launch their own public consultation on the issue in the new year, as well as responding to an ongoing Scottish Government review.

But some industry bosses have accused the local authority of pressing ahead with plans for the new tax against the expressed wishes of much of the business community.

David Richardson, the Federation of Small Businesses’ development manager for the Highlands and Islands, said: “We recognise that Highland Council’s shrinking discretionary budget is forcing it to make some difficult spending decisions, and note that in a bid to generate additional income, some councillors have been pushing for the introduction of a new tax on visitors for over four years now.

“However, having surveyed Highland businesses twice in that time, most recently in the spring of this year, it is clear that the business community is opposed to the concept of a new tourist bed tax – 72 per cent saying that it would damage their business and 75 per cent saying that it would damage businesses in their areas and the local economy.

“Tourism is by far the most important industry in the Highlands, supporting a wide range of businesses and services both directly and indirectly.”

News of the consultation has prompted one of the city’s main hoteliers to argue it could drive tourists away.

Tony Story, managing director of the Kingsmills Hotel, said that rather than a new tax, authorities should be considering how better to distribute funds already being raised.

“There’s so much good coming out of the tourism industry and we already have a very high rate of VAT,” he said.

“People are taxed enough already. It’s what happens with the tax that’s taken that matters.

“Nobody wants to see services suffer, but rather than hitting tourists and the tourism industry, go and speak to the people dividing up the VAT and fight for a bigger share.

“Let’s not kill the golden goose.”

He added: “We are attracting a lot of new things to Inverness and it’s important that we encourage that.

“Let’s not put up barriers to people coming here.”

Seeking to reassure business owners about the idea, which has previously been promoted as a way for local authorities to pay for the infrastructure costs associated with high visitor numbers and which City of Edinburgh council is also pushing for, SNP group leader on Highland Council, Councillor Maxine Smith, said: “I sincerely believe there is a way to raise money that will benefit both local council services that are affected by so many tourists – such as potholes and toilets – but will also benefit the tourism sector.

“Anything we make better in the Highlands will be good for all, not just tourists.

“The industry should not be worried. They are not being asked to pay anything extra, it is only a few pounds from their patrons, which is commonplace in Europe and works well.

“The Highlands has a massive tourist industry and this is not going to change simply because some of them are asked to pay a few more pounds each day for their visit.”

More information on the consultation will be made available by Highland Council in the new year.

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