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Business / Visitor levy on cruise ships visitors might undermine industry’s competitiveness, port authority warns

Photo: John Coutts

LERWICK Port Authority has reiterated its concern that any potential new tax on cruise ship visitors could have a detrimental impact on Shetland’s competitiveness as a tourist destination.

The port’s chief executive Calum Grains said on Thursday that even without any new taxes the cruise sector was already making a significant contribution to the tourism economy through job creation, throughput in venues and visitor spend.

His comments are in response to a call from the Liberal Democrats to include cruise ship passengers in the planned visitor levy legislation currently going through the Scottish Parliament.

Local MSP Beatrice Wishart said amending the legislation, which currently would only apply to hotel and other overnight accommodation, to include cruise ship visitors was a matter of fairness.

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

The cruise sector is set to grow further in Shetland in 2024 with 156 ships booked for the summer. Last year, over 123,000 cruise ship passengers on just under 130 ships arrived at Lerwick.

Lerwick Port Authority charges cruise operators £4.56 for every passenger coming ashore in Lerwick, with children under the age of 16 costing half that amount.

Meanwhile, Highlands and Islands Green MSP Ariane Burgess has called on Shetland Islands Council to embrace the forthcoming levy to raise vital funds for local services.

In addition to the visitor levy, the Greens are also pushing for the introduction of a cruise ship levy on environmental grounds, a policy move that has been confirmed in the budget.

Port authority chief executive Calum Grains. Photo: Shetland News

Capt Grains said any new tax was unsettling for the industry.

“The unknowns surrounding the introduction of any new taxation, either through the Visitor Levy or the proposed new Cruise Tax from the Scottish Green Party to tackle emissions is concerning and unsettling for the industry,” he said.

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“We are following the discussions closely as any new tax could have significant impacts on the competitiveness of Shetland as a destination and how Scotland is perceived more widely within the cruise industry.

“If a levy is brought in, a clear reinvestment strategy must exist for any proceeds directly benefitting the tourist industry and we welcome any continued consultation with the Scottish Government to develop efficient and competitive proposals that do not disproportionately affect island communities.”

Meanwhile, referring to the visitor levy, Burgess said a small charge could make a big difference.

“That is why I am urging Shetland Islands Council to apply the levy and use the funds to benefit our visitors as well as our communities,” she said.

“This is just one of the steps Scottish Greens are taking in government to give more powers to local councils, alongside the ability to double council tax on holiday homes.”

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