Exclusive:Edinburgh’s festivals seek tourist tax exemption for performers and crews working on events

Organisers want ‘clear majority’ of money raised re-invested in key sectors

Edinburgh's major festivals and events have called for artists and backstage workers to be exempt from paying a tourist tax in the city.

Festivals Edinburgh, which represents 10 of the biggest events in the Scottish capital, has raised concerns that performers, companies and crews could be "priced out" of staying overnight in the city.

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The umbrella body has estimated that more than 17,000 performers and crew could be affected by a proposed tourism levy, which could put an extra four per cent onto the cost of overnight accommodation.

Edinburgh's festivals have been running since 1947. Picture: Lisa FergusonEdinburgh's festivals have been running since 1947. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Edinburgh's festivals have been running since 1947. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

It wants measures put in place to ensure the city does not “dissuade beneficial longer-stay business visitors” from travelling to work at the festivals.

Wide-ranging concerns about the potential impact of a tourist tax on the city’s major events have been raised in an official report for MSPs, including the prospect of councils using the proceeds of the visitor levy to “substitute” for reduced funding elsewhere.

Festivals Edinburgh director Julia Amour has called for a “clear majority” of proceeds from the tourist tax to be allocated to the culture, heritage and festivals sectors in the city due to their “importance” to the city’s economy.

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It believes the proposed levy could be an “important mechanism” to ensure Edinburgh’s festivals remain “a crucial economic powerhouse for people’s jobs and livelihoods locally, regionally and nationally.”

New research published this year revealed that Edinburgh’s festivals were generating almost £500m for the city’s economy and supporting more than 7000 jobs.

However Ms Amour said: "We’re concerned about negative impacts on cultural workers. Unlike the certified professions which are the main focus of business tourism, the cultural sector does not have a high average wage and these workers are travelling in order to contribute to the leisure and visitor economy at their destination.

"In the case of Edinburgh, this category includes the casts and crews who deliver Edinburgh’s festivals, of whom an estimated 17,000 require accommodation. Of course, it also applies much more widely across the whole of Scotland.

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“We will make representations at national and local levels about the importance of identifying cultural business visitors who should be exempted or reimbursed, so they’re not being priced out of the places they’re supporting by their presence.”

Edinburgh City Council has been lobbying the Scottish Government for years for the power to impose a tourist tax. It has introduced a bill which, if approved, would allow councils to introduce a local levy and set their own rate based on a percentage of overnight accommodation.

Ms Amour added: “Edinburgh’s rich offer of culture, heritage and year-round festivals are the most important reasons for leisure visitors to choose the city.

"There are strategically important positive impacts to be gained from re-investing in supporting the resilience and sustainable development of these sectors, which have a long road to recovery after the pandemic, and a risk of major negative impacts if these assets are not adequately supported.

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“Given the importance of culture, heritage and festivals to the success of Edinburgh’s visitor economy, we argue that a clear majority of the proceeds of any levy should be allocated to benefit the future of these sectors.

"The objectives of using the proceeds of a levy should be around mitigating the pressures of visitation where necessary, but primarily stimulating sustainable future visitor economies through product development.”

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