Edinburgh leaders warn of city decline without tourist tax

Andrew Kerr says Edinburgh has to pursue a tourist levy. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Andrew Kerr says Edinburgh has to pursue a tourist levy. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Edinburgh City Council’s new chief executive says the Scottish capital risks slipping into decline as a tourism destination if it fails to bring in an extra charge for visitors.

Andrew Kerr, who is overseeing a wide-ranging cost-cutting programme within the authority, believes the city has been left with no option but to pursue some form of tourist tax.

Entering the debate on the issue for the first time, Mr Kerr said there was no prospect of the city maintaining its current infrastructure for events and remaining competitive in global tourism under current financial arrangements.

He has warned of the need to address the council’s “shrinking resources” in the wake of concerns by John Donnelly, the head of the Marketing Edinburgh agency, that the city faces a ”flight to the bottom” if it is unable to introduce some form of tourist tax.

Council leader Andrew Burns yesterday issued a warning that Edinburgh’s festivals face being “left behind” by their competitors if the city does not bring in a tourist tax.

He said it was time for the city to “get serious” about defending its tourism offer and said it would be a major mistake for the city to “ignore the reality” of local government finances.

Mr Kerr said: “We should be doing everything to sustain the tourism industry in the city and keep Edinburgh at the forefront of world tourism. We are a small city. We need to be competitive in every way.

“We do have to find a tourism levy of some kind. I don’t know the answer, or which way that is, I don’t care, but one thing is for certain, we cannot carry on as we are and hope to maintain the infrastructure and the way we are doing things. The resources are definitely shrinking – we have to find some alternatives.”

Councillor Burns said: “Edinburgh’s cultural offer centres around its 12 major festivals, which have unrivalled international appeal, and the year-round cultural infrastructure which enables them to thrive. This requires significant ongoing investment to retain this pre-eminent festival city status.

“Without it, Edinburgh risks being left behind by other competitor cities.”