Warnings that a tourist accommodation tax could worsen Western Isles’ ferry overcrowding

Rob McKinnon, Chief Executive of Outer Hebrides Tourism said: 'We don't believe that a tourist levy is the right way to solve the clear infrastructure needs of tourism on the islands."
Rob McKinnon, Chief Executive of Outer Hebrides Tourism said: 'We don't believe that a tourist levy is the right way to solve the clear infrastructure needs of tourism on the islands."

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is calling for a ‘landing levy’ to be introduced for island destinations as a ‘more intelligent’ option for the so-called ‘tourism tax’ than a levy on overnight accommodation.

The call was made as part of the Comhairle’s response to a Scottish Government consultation on the principles of a ‘Local Discretionary Transient Visitor Levy’ (TVT), being conducted with the aim of ‘developing government understanding of the issues and concerns with regard to the introduction of TVT’.

The consultation aims to ensure that any new legislation would support ‘the continuing success of the tourism industry in Scotland’, provide powers for local authorities to respond to local infrastructure pressures caused by tourism, and to minimise the administrative burdens for any new scheme.

A report on the issue that went before last week’s meeting of the Comhairle’s Sustainable Development Committee, stated that the Comhairle supported ‘in principle’ the idea of a levy being introduced as long as ‘more innovative solutions around how any levy could be applied and administered are considered and incorporated into proposed legislation’.

The report warned that the widely discussed levy on overnight accommodation could ‘exacerbate’ the problems of overcrowding on ferries during peak times as ‘exempt sectors’ would become more attractive to visitors, and that a levy should instead be charged to those entering the island via ports or airports.

Car and passenger journeys were already being recorded, the report stated, and that a mechanism to charge per person travelling to the islands was already in place where ferries berth at council owned harbours.

‘Given the constraints on Comhairle resources’, the report concluded, ‘there would be a significant resource required to administer and collect a TVT (including enforcement action), [and] a simpler landing levy should be considered as an alternative solution that could be more cost effective and appropriate for island areas’.

In a statement issued in response to the Comhairle’s proposals, Rob McKinnon, Chief Executive of Outer Hebrides Tourism said: “We don’t believe that a tourist levy is the right way to solve the clear infrastructure needs of tourism on the islands. Visitors to the Outer Hebrides already pay a premium to get here, and this exacerbates the gap.

“Scotland, along with the rest of the UK, already collects more tax from its visitors than almost any of our international competitors, through high VAT. There are also practical problems with the levy, which will be difficult to apply and expensive to collect.

“Given [that] the Scottish Government has already granted local authorities the right to apply a levy, we feel the best system would be nation-wide, simple to collect, and cover all visitors. It should also be targeted on improving the experience of visitors.

“The Comhairle’s proposals are simpler than a bed-tax, and would capture all visitors, but we need to avoid the risk of it being seen as an “extra” tax for visiting the islands.”