Edinburgh tourist tax: Nicola Sturgeon unveils plans for visitor levy in Scotland's cities

Edinburgh council chiefs have welcomed Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that the Scottish Government will bring forward legislation to give local authorities powers to introduce a tourist tax.

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The new law, included in the Programme for Government outlined by the First Minister on Tuesday (September 6), is expected to be put before the Scottish Parliament early in 2023.

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Ms Sturgeon said the Local Visitor Levy Bill would give councils “additional fiscal flexibility”. She said: “This will help councils, if they so choose, to fund activities related to tourism and related infrastructure.”

The city council has long campaigned for the powers to introduce a levy, which would see overnight visitors pay a small additional charge on their accommodation.

And a consultation in 2018 found 85 per cent of the 2,500 respondents backed such a move. It was estimated at the time that a levy in Edinburgh could raise in the region of £15 million a year.

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Welcoming the promise of legislation, council leader Cammy Day said: “This is fantastic news for the city, and a landmark step following years of work here in the Capital to make the case for a visitor levy – something that’s common practice in other major cities and destinations across the world.

“We’re very proud to be one of the world’s most popular visitor destinations, but we’re equally aware that this success comes at a cost. That’s why we believe it’s right to ask visitors to make a small contribution to help us sustain and improve our tourism offer while managing its impact.

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Tourists would pay a small additional charge for an overnight stay in the Capital, as happens in many other European cities.

“We’ve been building the case for Edinburgh to become the first city in the UK to introduce such a levy, consistently and repeatedly making the case to Scottish Ministers without success – until now. From our citywide consultation held in 2018, our proposals gained overwhelming backing from Edinburgh’s residents, businesses and attractions – and, importantly, also from the majority of accommodation providers.”

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He said the income generated by the levy would help the council to continue to invest in and manage the success of tourism in the city.

“We acknowledge, of course, this has been an extremely challenging period for our culture and hospitality industries and are fully committed to working together with them, the wider tourism industry and other partners to co-produce a scheme that works best for the whole of our Capital city.

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“I’ll be pushing the Scottish Government hard to ensure that any income generated is in addition to our block grant funding – not instead of it – and that we’re in a position to benefit from this as soon as possible.”

However, the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) said the visitor levy announcement was “disheartening”. It had requested a pause on the policy to allow the sector to recover from the pandemic and deal with the challenges ahead.

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STA chief executive Marc Crothall said: “We have stated that any reference to the possibility of additional levies being imposed on tourists at a future date would be very unwelcome and could potentially impact negatively on business and destinations who are needing to grow a future pipeline of demand in an increasingly competitive market-place.

“We will continue our discussions with the Scottish Government and we look forward to hearing more support for Scotland’s business community in its fiscal review announcement later this month.”

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