Tourism chief hits out over bed tax scheme

National Museum bosses are backing plans for a tourist tax. 'Picture: Neil Hanna

National Museum bosses are backing plans for a tourist tax. 'Picture: Neil Hanna

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THE figurehead of Edinburgh’s tourism industry has warned that the Capital risks damaging its international reputation if it presses ahead with a bed tax.

Robin Worsnop, chairman of the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group (ETAG), expressed fears that the city was rushing into the scheme without carrying out proper research on whether it would deter visitors.

He urged the tourism industry to speak out on the contribution it already makes to the city’s economy through the number of jobs it supports and existing taxes that are paid.

The city council is hoping to raise around £15 million a year via a tourist tax or levy, with new funding possibly ring-fenced for festivals, events and marketing of the city. Extra charges would be added on to hotel bills and could be altered to take advantage of peak periods like the Festival and the city’s Hogmanay celebrations.

Senior councillors expect to be given the green light to introduce the charge when the Capital’s City Deal is confirmed later this year.

Last year, a major study into the long-term future of the festivals warned of the dangers of complacency and the risks of them losing “premier division status” if funding levels could not be maintained.

Mr Worsnop, chief executive of award-winning tour company Rabbie’s, admitted securing future investment for the tourism industry was one of the “greatest challenges for Edinburgh” in the future.

He told the annual Edinburgh tourism summit that the city’s global reputation could be adversely affected if it becomes the first in Britain to impose an additional charge on its visitors.

And he questioned the need for Marketing Edinburgh and Festivals Edinburgh – two publicly funded organisations which have come out in support of the proposed lobby.

The stance taken by ETAG – which represents more than 1500 tourism professionals, businesses and organisations – mirrors that of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, the national industry body, which has warned that a tourist tax could “damage” and “hinder” one of Scotland’s best-performing industries.

Mr Worsnop said: “We are made up of many small and medium-sized businesses who contribute significant sums to public coffers.

“Our competition is global and careful big-picture consideration needs to be given to the impact of putting extra costs onto businesses.

“Tourism is everyone’s business and our visitors should be treasured for the choice they make to invest in our economy.

“However, this debate is taking place behind closed doors and our industry is not being properly engaged around it.

“It is predicated on the option that the visitor won’t mind paying extra, but no research has been done into the impact on our visitors’ perception of our city and our country, nor on the resulting impact of visitor behaviour.

“What would be the impact on Edinburgh and Scotland’s reputation if it is the only city in Britain that imposes extra costs on our visitors?”