Steve Cardownie: Hotels’ opposition to a tourist tax just does not check out

Tourists would not be put off visiting Edinburgh by a modest tax on room rates. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Tourists would not be put off visiting Edinburgh by a modest tax on room rates. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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I am pleased to see that the question of a tourist tax for Edinburgh is being widely discussed again and attracting new advocates of such a move. I, along with the then leader of the council Keith Geddes, proposed such a course of action more than 20 years ago and despite the howls of indignation from the hotel sector at such a prospect, I (and I suspect Keith) have never wavered from this view. I find it incomprehensible that the very sector that profits most from our world-renowned festivals and events refuses to contribute to the budget that is necessary for their continued success. Hotels are bursting at the seams with people who flock to the city to immerse themselves in the cultural and sporting programme on offer yet the hotel industry, in their pursuit of even more profit, is happy to sit back and let others, primarily the public sector, pay for it.

Major cities throughout the world apply a tourist tax in one form or another and they have not seen a downturn in visitor numbers, as our hotel industry would have us believe would be a consequence of its introduction here. It is simply not good enough for the hotel sector to let others shoulder the burden, especially when they are one of the main beneficiaries.

We have also witnessed some astronomical price increases in hotel tariffs which has not adversely affected hotel occupancy rates, thereby exposing the hollow argument that visitor numbers would inevitably fall if a modest tax was levied on room rates. The answer is quite simple. Curb your desire to accumulate even more profit at the expense of visitors to our city and support a modest charge which, as has been proven elsewhere, visitors are quite happy to pay as they recognise that the additional money is to be used to sustain the very reason why they are here in the first place. The excuse I was given by a representative of the hotel trade that “prices do not go up during the winter and summer festivals, it’s just that a reduced price is offered during the rest of the year” will just not wash.

The hotel trade has had ample opportunity to come up with their own scheme and despite promises that they would do so, nothing has happened.

There needs to be a policy shift in government thinking and for the future success of our festivals and events in this city, allow the council to introduce a tourist tax.

The hotels, like their guests, need to wake up and smell the coffee!