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Business / Tourism industry and council oppose visitor tax

Lerwick harbour was busy on Friday with yachts participating in the Shetland Race as well as the 293 metre cruise liner Costa Mediterranea visiting. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News
An archive image of yachts in Lerwick Harbour. Photo: Shetland News

SHETLAND’s tourism industry has reiterated its opposition to the introduction of a local tourism tax which is currently considered by local authorities across Scotland as a way of raising millions of pounds of additional funds to invest in public services and infrastructure.

Shetland Islands Council has said it was not interested in considering the introduction of a visitor levy, but Green MSP for the Highlands and Islands, John Finnie, has now called on the local authority here to think again after Highland Council decided to move towards implementing a levy on tourists.

Last year, the Scottish Government consulted on a locally determined tourism tax with the result expected to be published later this year.

It is common practice throughout Europe to charge tourists a levy, usually per person per night, with the money going to the local authority.

There are strong calls for such a levy to be introduced in tourism hot spots such as Edinburgh and Skye as well as for the communities along the North Coast 500 road trip – feeling the strain from being hugely popular among tourists.

Highlands and Islands top Green candidate John Finnie: 'we want social justice too' - Photo: Chris Cope/ShetNews
Scottish Greens MSP for the Highlands and Islands John Finnie. Photo: Shetland News

Finnie said: “We are fortunate that this part of the world is so beautiful that many people come to visit and spend time here. No one would wish to deter them.

“But the fact is that as well as bringing benefits, tourism puts a strain on services as well. A modest charge for visitors could raise millions for the council while simultaneously improving services for tourists and locals alike.

It’s a win-win and I would urge Shetland Islands councillors to consider the merits of the levy.”

However Shetland Tourism Association said that the introduction of such a scheme locally would be “entirely inappropriate”.

Its acting chairman Steve Henry said: “This is a scheme that fits well with large central belt authorities that have the resources to implement, collect and manage such charges. It’s entirely inappropriate for small local authorities in rural areas where the majority of providers are likely to be small businesses or self-employed people.

“The additional admin burden placed on these small providers is way out of proportion to any benefit they would ever receive in return once the costs are paid for the collection etc.

“The application would also need to be carefully considered – particularly in areas such as Shetland and Orkney where overnight visitors are substantially lower than daily cruise visitors who, if the accommodation charge was applied, would pay nothing.

“We already have additional barriers to face in our tourism sector with the cost of getting to Shetland and the capacity issues in the summer. To place an additional tax on our visitors could deter them from visiting and would be a direct contradiction of everything we are trying to do to encourage growth in this sector.”

The SIC’s political leader Steven Coutts said on Tuesday that he welcomed the principle of greater revenue generating powers for local authorities but this should not come at the expense of fair and just central government grant to councils.

He added: “We believe a visitor levy would not suitable for our economy. In particular, the high costs that visitors to Shetland face through expensive transport links and logistics mean that there is already an ‘islands premium’ paid by those choosing to visit Shetland.”