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Business / Proposed visitor levy bill sparks mixed reaction: ‘All it does it stifle growth’

An archive photo of the Shetland Hotel. Photo © Mike Pennington (cc-by-sa/2.0)

THE SCOTTISH Government has published a new bill that could grant local authorities the option to apply a tourist tax to overnight accommodation stays – but there continues to be a mixed response to the idea locally.

All types of accommodation could be subject to the levy, including hotels, B&Bs, self-catering and campsites.

A percentage of each stay’s cost would be collected by the accommodation provider and passed on to the local authority.

The money from the tax could then be reinvested into the community.

Similar taxes are already in place across much of Europe – currently 21 of 27 EU member states have some form of levy.

Green MSP for the Highlands and Islands, Ariane Burgess, recently spoke up in support of the proposed bill, declaring it a “really welcome announcement”.

She suggested that money gathered from the levy could be used to invest in affordable housing.

However, Lerwick North and Bressay councillor Gary Robinson tweeted in response last week:

“As if there aren’t already enough financial disincentives to visiting Shetland – just as with fishing, central belt Greens showing how out of touch they are with remote and rural communities.”

Some business owners are also concerned that the tax will discourage people from visiting the isles, as simply travelling to Shetland is already at a premium.

Robert Smith, owner of the Brudolff Hotels Group which runs the Lerwick and Shetland hotels, told Shetland News:

“Well of course, after what the hospitality industry has been through in the past three years, and the past six months with skyrocketing energy costs, there had to be some bright spark in Edinburgh who could come up with yet another tax.

“Then there is the admin and bureaucracy for us and others… but all it does it stifle growth, enthusiasm for people to start up businesses, add to the costs of government, so its achievement will be negative, not positive.”

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Juliet Bellis runs Gord B&B and Guesthouse in Fetlar and believes the levy will have a “serious detrimental effect”.

She said: “The problem with the Scottish Government is that is thinks that everyone in Scotland lives in the central belt.

“It has no comprehension of life in the Highlands and Islands.

“What are tourist providers supposed to do when the powers that be cannot work out a coherent strategy?

“If you do not want tourists to visit, let’s all close our doors.”

Steve Henry, vice-chair of Shetland Tourism Association, told Shetland News that “there’s too many unanswered questions” surrounding the bill.

“It’s just so vague…it’s up to every council to set their own levy,” he said.

“I think that Edinburgh has set £2 per night, we heard somebody has set £3 a night, but we don’t know what the SIC is maybe thinking about it.

“If we do it, what is the money going to be used for?”

Council leader Emma Macdonald said: “Shetland Islands Council has not yet considered the details around the possible introduction of a local visitor levy.

“The cost of transport to and from Shetland, by sea or by air, is already a significant barrier to many aspects of island life, including tourism.

“It would be important to consider the potential income that may be raised by such a levy, against the possible negative impact on our tourist industry.

“Any new taxes or levies should not be considered as the solution to sustainable funding of our valuable public services.”

It was previously reported that cruise ships were under consideration as part of the levy.

At the moment bill says that “accommodation in a vehicle, or on board a vessel, that is undertaking a journey involving one or more overnight stops” is not included under the plans.

But the bill – which is yet to go through parliament – says the exemptions may be modified by ministers.

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