Edinburgh council leaders could introduce a so-called ‘tourist tax’ following a huge spike in visitors following the Queen’s death, amid reports it could bring in £15million sterling per year.
The city is one of the UK’s most popular destinations, with 4.9 million separate trips from domestic and international travelers in 2019.
Now leader of Edinburgh City Council, which is a Labor minority authority, Cammy Day hopes to propose a timetable for a tourist levy in November – and said 85% of residents and businesses support the levy.
He warned that the city will struggle to manage large-scale events in the future without investment and that the city’s leading role in the Queen’s bereavement procedures will only increase visitor numbers .
Edinburgh would be the first city in the UK to introduce the tax, although 40 cities and countries around the world already have similar measures.
Both the SNP and Labor are in favor of the policy, but the Scottish Conservatives have already voiced strong opposition, saying it would “harm” the local economy.
Wales and Cornwall are also considering a tourist tax, although some businesses fear this will just drive visitors away.
Following the Queen’s death at Balmoral earlier this month, her coffin was first taken to Edinburgh where it lay in state in St Giles Cathedral. Hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets of the city to watch the coffin procession, as well as queuing for hours to see Her Majesty one last time.
Tens of thousands of people line the streets of Edinburgh to watch the Queen’s funeral procession pass by
People queue to view the coffin containing the body of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh on September 12
Hogmanay sees a huge fireworks display above the city’s iconic skyline every year
Edinburgh’s tourism industry supports around 30,000 local jobs, with overnight visitors spending over £1.9billion a year – and popular events such as Hogmanay and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival can see the population of the city practically double overnight.
Labor adviser Mr Day said: ‘The scenes of the last ten days since Edinburgh’s response to the Queen’s death were exceptional.
“And I have no doubt that these stunning images of our city, which have been beamed around the world to billions of people, will result in even greater interest in Edinburgh as an incredible place to visit.
“This is, of course, extremely welcome – especially for businesses following the difficulties of the pandemic and in the face of high inflation.
“But we have to recognize that spikes in visitor numbers to Edinburgh are not without challenges.
“As we all know, the city’s population more than doubles in August during the Festivals, and Hogmanay remains one of the most famous celebrations on the planet.
“While we are of course used to hosting major events, Edinburgh is a small city.
“We have to deal with how the popularity of the city affects our residents and its impact on our streets.
“Our economic strength has brought us great success but, without additional revenue streams, we will struggle to manage and sustain that success in the future.
“This is precisely why we have worked so hard to convince the Scottish Government to give us the powers to introduce a visitor’s tax, or visitor’s tax.”
Councils in Wales and Cornwall are both considering a similar visitor’s tax, but contrary to Mr Day’s claims about his popularity in Edinburgh, Welsh businesses fear it will do more harm than good.
Christopher Frost, restaurateur and chairman of North Wales Tourism, said now was not the time to impose a tax on tourism.
“The cost of living crisis has led to a huge increase in the price of energy, utilities and food,” he said.
“For many, prices have in some cases doubled or tripled, which has made the cost of doing business extremely high.
“With the skills shortage in the industry, the challenges of an unregulated Airbnb marketplace, rising employment costs, now is not the time to launch a consultation on a bed tax that will further increase the cost of doing business, will shake the confidence of an industry that has yet to overcome the challenges of the pandemic, and create even more bad publicity for an industry that is already struggling.
The proposed levy is a policy put in place through the Welsh Government’s cooperation agreement with Plaid Cymru.
Cefin Campbell of Plaid Cymru said it could “make a real difference” in developing and protecting local services and infrastructure.
City tax in Edinburgh would see a proposed surcharge of £2 per night per visitor to the city – although exact details of how this will be charged have yet to be released.
Mr Day for Edinburgh said he was delighted that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had confirmed ministers would table a bill in Parliament early next year.
Writing in the Edinburgh Evening News, he said he was “committed” to seeing the tax implemented as soon as possible – in the hope that it could bring in £15m a year.
He said: “Edinburgh is a gateway for tourism across Scotland and contributes significantly to the country’s hospitality sector and economy.
“Statistics for the sector indicate that it supports around 30,000 local jobs, with overnight visitors spending over £1.9billion a year in the city.
“We estimate that a levy could increase by around £15million a year – funding that could secure additional resources to invest sustainably and manage tourism success.
“I want to be clear that any visitor tax would benefit all of Edinburgh, not just the city centre.
“All the research suggests that a small levy would not deter tourists from visiting the capital.
“And, when we consulted residents and businesses – including accommodation providers – 85% were strongly in favor of introducing the tax.”