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Business / Lib Dems push for cruise ship visitors to be included in tourism tax bill

Lerwick Harbour is expecting to welcome tourists from 130 cruise ships this year.

SCOTTISH Liberal Democrats would support a move to allow local authorities to set a visitor levy but those arriving on cruise ships would also need to be taxed, according to local MSP Beatrice Wishart.

Speaking in parliament on Wednesday, she said the new legislation – as proposed – is unfair and needs to be amended.

At the moment, those arriving on cruise ships, by now a major part of the islands’ tourism sector, would not be required to pay such a levy.

The visitor levy bill is currently going through parliament, and once it becomes law it will give councils discretionary powers to raise a tax on visitors to invest in infrastructure and services.

Shetland Islands Council has so far not clearly stated whether it would introduce such a levy should it become law, but initial discussions in the chamber have raised doubts if enough funds could be raised to make it a meaningful income stream.

Up to the end of September last year 123,902 cruise ship visitors arrived at Lerwick, compared to 58,450 the previous year.

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart. Photo: Shetland News

Wishart said her party would offer conditional support for the bill at this stage, but substantial changes would be needed in order for the party’s support to pass the bill.

“Cruise ships are a large and welcome part of Shetland’s tourism sector but with the loophole that would mean cruise ship visitors would not be liable to pay this levy is unfair and that provision needs to be addressed in the bill,” she said.

“As a Scotland-wide policy it must accept the needs of local areas and reflect local community concerns.

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“In some places the volume of cruise ship visitors can have a larger impact on local services than visitors staying in hotels or self-catering or B&Bs. Under current proposals only those staying overnight in bricks and mortar would pay the levy.

Her party colleague Orkney MSP Liam McArthur said there was still time to address the shortcoming, something he plans as the bill goes through parliament.

“Giving local councils powers to address the challenges they face is something instinctively I support,” he said.

“In theory, allowing councils the option of setting a visitor levy to raise funds for investment in infrastructure and services is a sensible measure.”

Public finance minister Tom Arthur said: “I strongly believe that a visitor levy can be a force for good, offering councils the opportunity to use the proceeds to invest in their local economy, bringing benefits to residents and visitors alike.”

Lerwick Port Authority has been approached for its view on the possible changes to the way visitors from cruise ships are being charged once they come ashore.

The port’s response will be added here once received but previously have said that any additional cost to passengers could impact on the port’s competitiveness as a cruise destination.

Cruise visits to be considered in tourist tax proposals

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