Cash raised from a new levy on overnight stays in hotels and other forms of accommodation could be used to help attract more visitors to Scotland, the public finance minister has said.
Tom Arthur said while Scotland is already a very popular tourist destination for people from the UK and overseas, giving councils the ability to introduce a visitor levy is “one tool that will provide additional resources to continue to attract visitors”.
He was speaking as the Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill was published at Holyrood, which if passed will allow councils to levy a charge on overnight visitors.
The levy would be percentage of their accommodation costs, and would apply to those staying in hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, self-catering accommodation, camp sites, caravan parks and boat moorings or berthings.
The money raised would then be reinvested locally in facilities or services used by tourists.
Under the proposals, councils would have to consult communities, businesses and tourism organisations in their area before introducing the charge – with consultation also required on how the funds raised would be spend.
Edinburgh City Council has already set out plans to introduce a charge when the legislation comes in, and its leader Cammy Day said: “I don’t think paying a few pounds more per day will put anybody off coming to the world’s best city.”
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, he added: “This levy is applied across the world and it has not impacted on tourism anywhere.”
He insisted the charge would be “less than the price of a cup of coffee” for many visitors, adding: “It is common practice across the world. Many, many major cities across Europe have had this for many, many years.”
Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA), said while plans for the levy have been “contentious for the tourism sector”, the Scottish Government has adopted key recommendations put forward by the industry.
He said: “The STA welcomes the fact that the Bill supports our ask that revenue raised from a visitor levy must be spent on enhancing Scotland’s tourism economy.
“All income raised by any local authority that decides to proceed in implementing a visitor levy must be used to enhance tourism, which as a sector delivers significant economic benefits for the nation and our communities.
“The visitor levy must be viewed as a force for good, rather than being labelled as a ‘tourism tax’, which is extremely damaging for Scotland’s reputation as a desirable tourist destination to domestic and international visitors.”
Mr Arthur said: “Levies on visitors staying in paid-for accommodation are already used around the world and it is reasonable for local areas to want a small contribution from tourists to help support and sustain visitor economies.”
Katie Hagman, of local government body Cosla, said the legislation is a key step towards establishing a “more empowered Scottish local government”.
She added: “Cosla has consistently called for the ability of councils to set and raise taxes based on what is needed and decided locally.
“By providing each local authority with the power to set a rate charged to visitors, and to do so independently of the Scottish Government, the local visitor levy empowers local decision-making, with councils able to respond to the needs of their area and the people who live there.
“We welcome the flexibility offered by this legislation, and will consider if there are opportunities for it to go further. We are looking forward to seeing further investment both in tourism and our communities in the future.”