The Debate on Scottish Highlands Levying Tourism Tax

10 min read
It’s no longer that vague why and what a tourism tax is meant for. For most, it is to control overcrowding, and there is also the goal to protect the natural resources of the country, as well as to improve facilities and services directly related to tourism with the money that will be collected. Despite the good cause, the debate on the tourism tax saga still has all the makings of a disparaging state of affairs when it comes to moving the country forward. But why do we have to impose a tax that by nature will discourage tourism activities?
A tourist tax is different from the fee you pay for your visa and from a value-added tax, which is a consumption tax placed on certain products and which you’ll also find in many destinations. For instance, Tanzania started charging tax on tourists for ground transportation, water safaris, and camping fees. But it’s not just Tanzania and you’ll probably see more countries with the tourism tax levied in the future.
Throughout the world, there are only 42 countries that levied tax on tourism including Bhutan, Japan, and New Zealand. Unfortunately, Scotland is still naïve on Tourism Tax while its 15 neighboring countries are already way ahead when it comes to improving their tourism facilities. In the Highlands we have the iconic route called NC 500. The North Coast 500 is a 516-mile scenic route around the north coast of Scotland, starting and ending at Inverness Castle. It links many features in the north Highlands of Scotland into one iconic touring route. With Inverness accepting almost 300,000 foreign visitors each year, imagine how many people this route is carrying every single day. Leaving it unmaintained until destruction will lose more tourists than by asking for a small tax rate from them. In fact, it already needs some attention. It needs heavy investment to deal with the large amount of campervans and general vehicles using this amazing route. But where should we get the budget for this? From the locals?
In general, the whole of the Highlands needs investment to continue to give a great visitor experience. We need more public toilets, resting stops, night time entertainment, late opening shopping, hospitality training, better 4g coverage, 5g when available. What funds should support all of these projects that are mostly directed to the comfort of tourists? From locals again?
Of course not!
And this is the main reason why we need to put tax on our visitors. The planned introduction of Tourism Tax on top of the existing six percent goods and services tax (GST) has raised concerns from local industry players and stakeholders. And how much should it be?
The rate as well as the effectiveness of Tourism Tax in the Highlands is still under discussion. But to give the general public an idea on what Tourism Tax looks like here in Europe, we have listed some of the major determiners of tax in other countries.

TOURISM TAX IN EUROPE

Italy

In Italy, tourists have to pay a tax called Tassa di soggiorno which varies from city to city. The rate will depend on a hotel’s star rating and number of nights of stay. Children are usually exempted from charging.
Rome’s fee ranges from 3 euros to 7 euros a night depending on the type of room. The Civita di Bagnoregio, nicknamed “The Dying City” because of its location on an eroding hilltop, charges all visitors a 5 euro ($5.67) entrance fee.

Austria

The overnight accommodation tax in Austria differs by province. If you’re visiting Vienna or Salzburg, you’ll pay an extra 3.02% on the hotel bill per person per night. For others, they charge €0.15 per person per night.
Children under 15 are exempt from the tax. There are special toll fees too, for visitors.

Belgium

Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, and many other cities charge a rate per room. Antwerp’s is fixed at 2.39 euros ($2.72) and Bruges, 2 euros ($2.27), each per person, per night. Brussels varies depending on a hotels size and rating but can reach 7.50 euros ($8.53). Ghent has a City Tax of €2.50 (£2.18) per person, per night. Some hotels include the levy in the room rate but others will break out the cost and charge it as a supplement.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria levies a City Tax or a Resort Tax on visitors, which varies by area and hotel classification.
But overall, the tourist tax in Bulgaria ranges from 0.20 lev to 3 lev a night.

Croatia

Croatia’s tourist tax had remained fixed since 2005, but tourism to the country is growing thanks to “Game of Thrones” filming “King’s Landing” scenes there, and the country raised the tax by 25% at the beginning of January.
The increase applies during peak season in the summer and means visitors will pay 10 kuna per person per night, up from 8 kuna, but anyone staying at a campsite will still pay only 8 kuna.

France

France has a tax called “taxe de séjour.” The rates range from €0.20 to €4 per person, per night. You can see how the prices breakdown on the service-public.fr website.
Paris charges an extra 10% on the tax, meaning you’ll pay between €0.22 and €4.40. Children under 18 are exempt from the tax.

Germany

Germany has 2 different taxes it collects – a “culture tax” called a kulturförderabgabe, and a “bed tax,” a bettensteuer, in cities including Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Berlin. The taxes don’t include the VAT and reach 5 euros ($5.67) per person a day or 5% of a hotel bill, according to Hostelworld.

Hungary

It’s simpler in Hungary. Budapest collects an extra 4% nightly on top of their room rate.

Netherlands

In the Netherlands, visitors get charged a tourist accommodation tax called Toeristenbelasting. Its tax is divided into land tourist tax and a water tourist tax.
In Amsterdam, it’s 7% of the cost of a hotel room There is also a tax specific to transit visitors, including people on cruise ships, that charges 8 euros per 24-hour period.

Portugal

Visitors of Lisbon in Portugal have to pay a Municipal Tourist Tax of €1 (89p) per person, per night.
Whilst Porto introduced a €2 (£1.75) tax per person, per night Children under 13 are exempt from the overnight tax and it only applies to the first seven days of your stay.

Romania

On top of a VAT, you’ll see a tourist tax on your receipt when you stay in Romania. Hotels in the capital, Bucharest, charge a tax of 1% of the room rate. Major cities charge a city tax, and mountain and sea towns charge a rescue tax.

Slovenia

The tourist tax in Slovenia varies based on location and hotel grade.
The tourist tax regulations changed for Slovenia at the beginning of 2019, when it added a promotion tax. The tax reaches 3.13 euros ($3.55) a night in larger cities and resort towns, including Ljubljana and Bled, but costs only 1.57 euros ($1.78) for people between 7 and 18 or who are staying in hostels or camps.

Spain

During peak season, it may be a flat fee of 4 euros ($4.54) a day, per person. In Madrid you won’t be charged a tourist tax; however, in Barcelona visitors are charged up to 2.50 euros a day.
Those staying in luxury hotels pay €4 per person, per day, €3 for mid-range hotels, €2 for apartments and cruise ship visitors – even if you don’t stay on the islands – and €1 for campers and hostels.
Prices are halved if you’re traveling from November to May and the tax drops by 50% after your ninth night on the island.
Meanwhile, people visiting the Catalonia region, are charged under a tasa turistica. You will have to pay between €0.45 and €2.25 per person, per night, for the first seven nights, which depends on the hotel category and whether you are staying in Barcelona.

Switzerland

Switzerland’s tourist tax also varies depending on the location. The cost is per night and per person and is less for lodgings like hostels or camp-sites.
According to ‘My Swiss Alps’, a common amount is 2.50 Swiss francs.
Quotes for accommodation usually do not include the tourist tax; it is specified as a separate amount.
The tax can be included in the final bill, which is common for hotels. The tax can also be paid for separately, which is common for holiday homes. In the latter case, you’ll pay the tax to the landlord or the local tourist agency.

TOURISM TAX IN SCOTLAND

The Scottish government had long been against allowing councils to set a tourist tax. But earlier this year, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon already gave a go signal for the discussion of having the tax levied.
The debate never ends, though. A lot of businesses are screaming disappointment because they feel like they’ll miss a lot of customers when tourism tax is imposed. Like my question earlier – High tax rate might turn off visitors and prevent them from vacationing in Scotland.
But despite the permission, it was also reported that no councils in Scotland will have the power to implement a tourist tax until at least 2021.
In this long debate, Edinburgh has been the most vocal council asking for £2 a night or 2% charge, which supposedly should be applied throughout the year to all forms of accommodation, including short-term lets, with a seven-night cap.
As for the Scottish Highlands, the council already started a public consultation, in the form of a survey, on the controversial plan last August. It will be open to the public until October to collect ideas from locals.
The supporters of the tourism tax being levied claim it could raise funds to support local infrastructure but, like I already discussed earlier, some businesses are worried it could deter visitors.
The council has yet to make a final decision on whether to implement a Transient Visitor Levy (TVL).
The Scottish Highlands accommodate at least 4 million overnight visitors annually. This number is actually too high but to make their experience better, it is assumed that putting tourism tax on them can help the council improve facilities and services for their sake. This adds to customer satisfaction that later leads to customer loyalty.
To pinpoint the best option on creating a tourism tax system, council officials of the Scottish Highlands have already been studying the schemes used by other countries.
Committee chairman Allan Henderson said about having a tourism tax: “Highland welcomes visitors numbering roughly 25 times our resident population every year. Whilst visitors are very welcome, some of Highland’s infrastructure and services are struggling under the pressure of these additional users.
Ultimately, the council, with the help of everyone who responds to the consultation, needs to decide what is better for our region: introducing a visitor levy, with its potential positive and negative impacts – or not implementing a visitor levy, avoiding potential negative impacts but limiting possible investment and therefore leaving the region with the problems we currently face.” As for business owners who are worried about the plan, Highlands and Islands development manager for the Federation of Small Businesses, David Richardson reassures them, saying: “We would argue that protecting, preserving, enhancing and encouraging the economy is fundamental to all our futures.
The Highland Council makes no secret of its determination to raise money by taxing visitors. And it thinks by doing so that it will have no negative impact on tourism. But our research over the past three-years shows that a substantial majority of businesses are against a new visitor tax. For a whole variety of reasons.” Final words.
Collecting tourism taxes is not a difficult process, and given that they can also be adjusted easily for different types of travelers and the benefits they bring, or for peak and off-peak seasonality, it’s clear why some local authorities have seized on them as a part of the solution to over tourism.

Who pays it?

Every tourist pays tourist tax but, in most countries, there are some exemptions. Generally, these groups should be exempted from paying the tax in full or should be discounted:
  • children
  • disabled and accompanying persons
  • patients and carers for patients admitted to health facilities
  • youth hostels
  • members of the armed forces
  • bus drivers
  • tour leaders
  • workers within the municipality
But to be considered for exemption of this tax you must complete a certificate showing that you belong to one of these categories. However, these exemptions vary greatly from city to city.
So do you think we should support the proposed tourism tax being levied? Let us know what you think.

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