Call to extend capital tourist tax sparks controversy

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A CALL for the city’s proposed tourist tax to be extended to bars, restaurants and shops in addition to hotels has ignited fresh debate on the plans.

Up until now most discussion has focused on a £1 or £2 a night levy on visitors in B&Bs, guest houses and hotels.

Calls have been made to extend the city's proposed tourist tax

Calls have been made to extend the city's proposed tourist tax

But Edinburgh Airport boss Gordon Dewar argued any tourist tax should cast “the widest possible net”.

He said: “It can’t just be hotels that contribute. I think that would be a mistake, unfair and will not maximise the available funds. All of those that benefit from tourism should contribute. Airbnb, bars, restaurants, airports, shops amongst others.”

He also called for the money raised by the tax to be ring-fenced “with clear areas for spend”. He said: “This money, hard fought, can’t be used for potholes or spent by those that have not paid in.”

But the Federation of Small Businesses, which vehemently attacked the idea of a tourist tax in its response to the council’s consultation, said Mr Dewar’s suggestions were “even more unwelcome” than the original proposal.

Spokesman Garry Clark said: “This entire debate is sending out the wrong message. We need to value the tourism spend that comes to our economy. It brings in £1.4 billion and means nearly 35,000 jobs.

“We don’t want to prejudice that or get the message out that somehow tourists are not welcome. If there is a call to tax tourists and then there is a bidding war as to how much we tax tourists, that’s worrying.”

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association is also opposed to any kind of tourist tax.

But spokesman Paul Waterson said if a tax was to be introduced, it should not apply to pubs and restaurants.

He said: “Everyone has been to Europe and other places where there is a levy paid on your bed rather than your drinks or your food. The practicalities of that could be quite difficult.”

Tory economy spokesman Councillor John McLellan said Mr Dewar’s intervention showed how far there was to go before there was a workable proposal.

He said: “Ensuring the money raised goes directly to the tourism industry and is not simply lost in the council pot is essential. Businesses responsible for collecting and paying any levy must feel the benefit.

“And extending a scheme to any business which happens to serve tourists, like restaurants, would be even more complicated to administer and risks punishing locals. Edinburgh is already an expensive place to eat and drink and a lack of differentiation between tourists and locals enjoying a night out would be unacceptable.”

Green economy spokesperson and city centre councillor Claire Miller described Mr Dewar’s comments as “a bit of a red herring”.

She said a tax which was a levy overnight stays was a tried and tested model. “If it went down the path that Mr Dewar suggests, it would be much more uncharted territory. It would also result in visitors being charged multiple times, rather than the single levy on overnight stays. In fact, it would not be a visitor levy at all, as some aspects would apply equally to residents.”

Council leader Adam McVey welcomed the airport’s engagement in the discussion.

But he said: “Our focus will remain on our hotel industry as it meets the test of being well targeted, easy to implement and with the industry’s obvious benefit from the tourist economy.”