Richard Mayne: Pause for thought on tourist tax
As we usher in 2018 and I consider the opportunities and challenges ahead for Edinburgh's hotel and hospitality industry, it's all too tempting to reflect on past success. Our 238-bedroom Radisson Blu Hotel was certainly busy. We consistently achieved strong occupancy, the staff (and food) received notable award recognition and the hotel even proudly hosted the crew filming part of the new Avengers: Infinity War movie in the city.
However, as part of a sector that’s a major contributor to Scotland’s economy, I suggest there’s little room for complacency among Edinburgh’s hotel operators.
The increasing number of visitors to these shores from the likes of North America and Europe is always welcome, invariably attracted in part by our warm welcome, outstanding scenery and excellent food and drink. Yet, from an international perspective it would be naïve to also disregard the potential influence of a weaker pound on destination choice.
Undoubtedly, Edinburgh is a destination with global appeal. It’s also an intensely competitive environment for hotel operators with hundreds of additional beds already added or scheduled for Auld Reekie’s hotel stock. Competition is always to be embraced, though the months ahead will further accentuate the need for all to innovate and to consistently deliver the highest standards of service. For example, at Radisson Blu Edinburgh, guests have the convenience of electric car charging stations and families enjoy the novel “kid’s check-in” while the five-star G&V is now dog friendly.
Of course, as the Edinburgh Evening News has reported, city fathers still grapple with calls for greater regulation of the city’s increasingly active Airbnb market. From a hotelier’s perspective, I’d suggest its presence simply underlines the need to remind and reassure potential guests of the consistent quality of product and service that awaits visitors in the Capital’s leading hotels.
Edinburgh is also the focus of periodic calls for the implementation of the tourist tax. Personally, I am of the view that any such levy on Edinburgh hotels would place us at a disadvantage to other destinations in the country and potentially internationally. We must operate in a level playing field. In a sector, that from food and drink to utilities must also manage and somehow absorb rising costs, I urge pause for thought on calls for a tourist tax.
However, in 2018 hopefully Edinburgh will make further progress in its vision for “stretching the seasons”. We must encourage sustainable visitation and spend out with the honeypot periods of Christmas and the festival season.
Time will tell how Brexit impacts on the Capital and wider tourism industry. More pressing is the need to retain and attract staff who recognise that hotels offer more than a job. In the Year of Young People, it’s imperative our industry actively engages school and college leavers, demonstrating that for those with ambition, the attitude to serve and a passion to learn real skills, our vibrant hotel and hospitality sector offers a fantastic career of choice.
Richard Mayne is Cluster General Manager of Radisson Blu Edinburgh and the 5-star G&V Royal Mile Edinburgh Hotel