Scottish Highlands to Introduce UK’s first ‘Tourist Tax’ on campers

News, Tax,

The Highland Council voted recently to allow local authorities to introduce a ‘tourist tax’ on short term visitors, of £1 per night. This will for the first time in the UK include campers.

The council took the unprecedented step in response to criticism about the standard of local facilities. The controversial decision was taken in an attempt to solve the problem, which had caused negative comments from tourists.

Coming into force as early as 2021, it’s estimated that the amounts raised could be between £5m – £10m each year. These funds will be used to keep towns and villages ‘in good condition’. Over six million visitors come to the area each year, including day visitors and cruise passengers. The numbers have a considerable effect on services and infrastructure.

Edinburgh already has a £2 per night tax which was introduced a few months ago, but campers are unaffected. The fee is chargeable for the first seven nights of a trip.

With the tourist tax being introduced on visitors staying in paid overnight accommodation, there is the potential for numbers of wild campers to increase, where walkers and climbers don’t stay in recognised camp sites.

Additionally, it will add another level of administration to businesses that are operating in a challenging market place. Collecting, accounting for and paying on the tax will need to be kept as simple as possible.

Why introduce the tourist tax?

The tourist tax was felt by the council to be the most direct route to collect additional revenue to support their attempts to enhance the infrastructure around public services. Cromarty Firth Councillor, Maxine Smith explained the justification for the tourist tax. ‘We love tourists in the Highlands, and they spend millions here, but they don’t bring it to council, they bring it to business, and we have to do all the extra work, pick up the tab of public services.’

It’s a difficult case to argue, having experienced similar fees in ski resorts and camp sites across Europe, and we would hope the fears that tourists may be discouraged from visiting Scotland will be unfounded. A small nightly fee has never deterred us from visiting an area, though again, we don’t use recognised camp sites very often.

The response from Business owners

Stewart Nicol, from Inverness Chamber of Commerce was disappointed at the decision. ‘Imposing a local tax on visitors gives a clear statement that this area will be more expensive than others to visit. It will almost certainly influence where visitors will choose to stay and also be an additional layer of complexity to local taxation which could deter inward investment. The tourism sector is already facing unprecedented challenges with recruitment and retaining of skilled staff, a situation critically exacerbated by the prolonged and damaging uncertainty around Brexit.’

The Council will continue its work in 2020, to consider how the scheme will be designed and implemented.

As frequent visitors to the Highlands, we’ll watch this story with interest, as I am sure will councils in areas such as the Lake District and our other National Parks.


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