COMMENT: Token charge is unlikely to put off visitors

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AIRBNB has just started collecting tourist tax on behalf of the city authorities in Paris.

That might not seem like a significant move, and of little relevance to Edinburgh, but its ramifications could be massive. The website, which allows regular householders to rent their flats and houses to visitors to the city, is extremely popular and its customer base is growing massively each year.

Around 50,000 properties are on its books in Paris alone and hoteliers there have got hot and bothered about visitors using the site getting cheap accommodation partly because many are dodging the city’s tourist tax. So, last August, Airbnb agreed to start charging customers booking accommodation in Paris the equivalent of 60p per person per night and passing the proceeds on to the town hall.

By the time the Fringe draws to a close in Edinburgh this summer, the move is expected to have raised almost £4 million towards public services in Paris.

Now, the thing is, Airbnb is extremely popular in Edinburgh as well. Just think of the possiblities for our cash-strapped Capital. The 60p a night tourist tax makes more than £30m a year for Paris. Of course it wouldn’t be as lucrative as that in Edinburgh, but even a tenth of that would go a very long way.

And would that kind of token charge really put off visitors to our beautiful city, especially if it was ringfenced for tourism and cultural spending?

At a time when schools and social care are facing cuts, no one is going to pay more council tax to fund marketing campaigns to promote Edinburgh around the world.

But the reality is that if we don’t invest in selling ourselves to the world we will sooner or later pay the price. Fewer visitors will come, which will inevitably mean fewer jobs.

The dwindling amount we are spending on promoting the city compared to other cities suggests we are taking the success of our tourist industry for granted. We do that at our peril. The time for a tourist tax has surely come.