No Edinburgh tourist tax until at least 2021 as concerns raised over industry’s ‘fragile’ state

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Councils will not be able to impose a tourist tax until at least 2021 – as ministers raised fresh concerns about the industry’s “fragile” state.

Tourism secretary Fiona Hyslop has admitted the government was forced to agree to bring in legislation to get its budget through Holyrood in January.

The Real Mary King's Close is a unique five star tour experience, inviting guests to discover the intriguing real stories of Edinburgh's past residents. Pic: Lisa Ferguson

The Real Mary King's Close is a unique five star tour experience, inviting guests to discover the intriguing real stories of Edinburgh's past residents. Pic: Lisa Ferguson

But, addressing the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) conference in Glasgow, she cited “very important and complex issues and concerns” raised by industry leaders.

Ms Hyslop said the “unprecedented challenge” of Brexit and concerns over its impact on freedom of movement meant that said it was more important than ever to “ensure the world knows Scotland is open and welcoming”.

The government has resisted pressure from councils such as Edinburgh to have the power to impose a “transient visitor levy” over concerns that it would deter visitors.

However a new law was agreed as part 
of a budget deal with the Greens, despite fierce opposition from the STA.

Ms Hyslop said: “I’m deeply committed to supporting the Scottish tourism sector, and to enabling it to maximise its success – success that is both good for business and good for all of Scotland and its people.

“Sometimes that is challenging – not least when the Scottish Government had to agree to consult and legislate on a locally determined tourism tax.

“This was as a direct result of negotiations with the only party willing to seriously engage in the budget process.

“That legislation will allow those councils that wish to do so to introduce a tax to meet the needs of their own area.

“There will be no compulsion for local authorities to implement a tourism tax.

“Secondly, the requirement to consider legislation means that there will be no tourism tax levied in 2019 or indeed 2020 season, as consultation, legislation and indeed implementation if any council wants to introduce a tax, will take some time. As the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament take forward and consider this legislation, it’s important that all of your voices are heard.”

Warning against complacency over the industry’s strength, she insisted there would be “no compulsion” for local authorities to impose a tourist tax and pointed out that Scotland was facing an “incredibly competitive” international market.

Ms Hyslop highlighted that although there was a rise in overseas tourists last year the increase was not matched by spending from visitors.

She said the government was taking the issue of freedom of movement “extremely seriously” and told delegates at the tourism summit that a no deal departure from the EU would be “catastrophic.”

She said: “For those EU nationals who have made Scotland their home, we want to let you know that we value you, we value your contribution to our country, our economy and culture, and we absolutely want you to stay – you will always be welcome in Scotland.

“We cannot be complacent. The growth the sector continues to see is very much welcome but it needs to be acknowledged that our tourism sector is fragile.

bferguson@edinburghnews.com