Edinburgh tourism tax, worth £15m a year, set to go ahead

A TOURISM tax aimed at raising up to £15 million annually for the Capital is expected to get the go-ahead, the Evening News has learned.

Thursday, 4th February 2016, 9:16 am
Updated Thursday, 4th February 2016, 10:52 am
Visitors to the city might soon have to pay a tourist tax. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Ministers are understood to be supportive in principle of devolving powers to Edinburgh as part of a proposed £1 billion city deal, including the ability to set and collect a visitor levy.

The Capital would become the first British destination to introduce such a charge, which would see around £1 per night added to a typical hotel bill.

However, city leaders also said they were keen to make the new system as flexible as possible, with customers at large hotels potentially paying more than those staying in smaller establishments. They have also indicated a desire to see the tax applied throughout the year, and raised or lowered in response to changing levels of demand.

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This could see the levy hiked during busy periods such as the summer and winter festivals.

The proposal comes after a bid for similar powers in 2011 foundered amid a cool response from ministers.

Scottish Government officials said there were no plans to introduce the charge.

However, council bosses have suggested that position is because SNP leaders are afraid of antagonising hoteliers in the run-up to May’s Holyrood election.

A senior source said: “Publicly, they’re not supportive just now but, post-election, I think things will move.”

Councillor Andrew Burns, city leader, said he was optimistic that the Edinburgh deal – which includes the three Lothian councils, Fife and the Scottish Borders – would be confirmed as “ongoing” in Chancellor George Osborne’s March budget statement.

He said: “That means it’s in the final period of negotiating the detail [and] we would expect finalisation in late summer or early autumn.”

He added: “It’s not just infrastructure. It’s about skills and powers as well. Our deal is pretty different from Glasgow’s. Ours is a combination of infrastructure, skills and powers. [The Scottish Government] has been pretty supportive so far. One of the potential powers is the hotel, or tourist, tax.”

Councillor Sandy Howat, Edinburgh’s deputy leader, said introducing the levy was about more than investing in festivals and cultural 

“It’s also about day-to-day living – good pavements and good roads, or extra bins to keep streets clean during the festivals,” he said.

“What we’ve done at Waverley Bridge is an example of that, as are plans for the Ross bandstand. It’s about improvements to places.”

He held out the possibility of Edinburgh introducing a hotel tax that would be flexible in terms of when and how it is applied.

He said: “It could be £1 or £2 per night during a quiet period, £3 or £4 when it’s busy. The levy could vary throughout the year.

“It could vary in terms of who would pay it, what they would pay and when they pay. The large hotels might pay a bit extra, and the small hotels a bit less, or nothing.”

Among those backing a tourist tax is Julia Amour, the new director of Edinburgh’s festivals.