Public to be asked their view on tourist tax idea
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Business leaders have issued a stark warning over the impact of a proposed tourist tax in the Highlands.
Councillors announced last week that they will launch their own public consultation in early 2019, as well as responding to the Scottish Government’s ongoing review.
However, hoteliers have urged authorities to instead consider how to better redistribute existing funds.
Kingsmills Hotel managing director Tony Story said: “There’s so much good coming out of the tourism industry and we already have a very high rate of VAT.
“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 the tourism industry, speak to the people dividing up the VAT and fight for a bigger share. Let’s not kill the golden goose.
“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.”
Leading business figures believe the council is pressing ahead with plans for the tax despite the express wishes of industry leaders.
David Richardson, the Federation of Small Businesses’ development manager for the Highlands and Islands, said: “Having surveyed Highland businesses twice, most recently in the spring, it is clear that the business community is opposed to a tourist tax.
“Tourism is by far the most important industry in the Highlands, supporting a wide range of businesses and services both directly and indirectly.”
Local economist Tony Mackay added: “I believe that the main problem is that the Highland Council is unlikely to use any revenue from a tourist tax to provide better facilities for visitors.
“The council’s development department has a very poor reputation in relation to tourism developments in the region, as shown by their various proposals for projects along the River Ness which have attracted widespread criticism.”
SNP group leader Maxine Smith attempted to reassure businesses over the idea.
“I sincerely believe there is a way to raise money that will benefit both local council services that are affected by so many tourists but will also benefit the tourism sector,” she said.
“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.
“The Highlands has a massive tourist industry and this is not going to change because some are asked to pay a few more pounds each day.”