Robert Aldridge: City needs a tourist tax to keep the party going

Many European cities impose a small levy on visitors, writes Liberal Democrat councillor Robert Aldridge.

Monday, 15th January 2018, 6:00 am
The torchlight procession makes for a spectacular start to the Capitals Hogmanay celebrations. Picture: Jon Savage

Edinburgh loves a good party – as our enthusiasm for Burns’ Night, the festivals in August, Christmas and our world-leading Hogmanay celebrations clearly demonstrate.

No-one who took part in the fantastic torchlight procession over the festive period could have failed to be moved by the vision of thousands of torchbearers stretching the length of the Royal Mile (although an unkind friend did suggest that all we needed were pitchforks for a classic Hammer Horror movie!).

Establishing the city as the best place in the world to celebrate Hogmanay has meant fantastic business for our hotels, B&Bs and holiday lets.

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Robert Aldridge is the Liberal Democrat group leader at Edinburgh City Council

But it has also meant, in a minority of cases, residents were faced with terrible disturbance from so-called party flats.

The growth in short-term holiday lets of private homes has been huge over the past few years, and when they are well run they are a great asset to the city’s tourist offering.

But when they are misused as party flats or poorly managed they are a blight on individual tenement stairs and cause real distress to the permanent residents.

That is why I asked the council to set up a short-term working group including residents, landlords, planning, environmental health and housing services etc to agree how we can manage this better.

Robert Aldridge is the Liberal Democrat group leader at Edinburgh City Council

There is already a bill going through the Scottish Parliament which I hope will give the council sufficient powers to take action.

Getting the balance right between affordable tourist lets and the right for residents to be free from disturbance is not easy, but can be done, if there is goodwill on all sides.

The festivities also bring costs to the city. (By the way huge thanks and congratulations to council staff who cleared up so quickly and well after the Hogmanay Party).

All parties on the city council have supported introducing a small tourist bed tax to help finance our festivals.

Most major European towns and cities do this without any detrimental effect on their tourism. So it is both disappointing and surprising that once again the SNP Government has turned down the request for this.

Most tourists would welcome making a small contribution to the costs of their fantastic stay in our beautiful city, and most Edinburgh residents would welcome a wee bit of help towards the cost of keeping Edinburgh a world-class destination. Scottish Government Ministers really need to change their minds on this. It’s traditional at this time of year to make resolutions.

I think the stress of managing reducing budgets has led to a bit of a ‘can’t do’ mentality on the council.

There are of course many exceptional staff members who go the extra mile. But overall I think the impression the council gives is of sucking our teeth and being reluctant.

So for 2018 let’s transfer to a ‘can do’ approach … and hope the SNP Government gives us a hand with the ability to levy a small tourist bed tax!