Highlands & Islands

Tourist tax consultation to be held in the Highlands

Scottish Highlands Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Last year, more than six million visitors came to the Scottish Highlands

Highland Council is to hold a public consultation next year on the introduction of a tourist tax.

Tourism is the Highland region's most important industry and supports 25,000 jobs.

Provisional figures for last year suggest almost 6.5 million visitors came to the area.

Councillor Maxine Smith, who has been lobbying for a levy for several years, said the money raised would help pay for improve facilities such as toilets.

Business, community councils and individuals will be encouraged to take part in the consultation. A date for the start of the exercise will be announced early next year.

Council officers have estimated that a transient visitor levy could raise up to £10m a year in the Highlands.

'Good idea'

Ms Smith said: "The industry should not be worried, they are not being asked to pay anything extra, it is only a few pounds from their patrons, which is commonplace in Europe and works well.

"We could reach a situation in five to 10 years where we have spare monies, which can be set aside specifically for a 'tourism fund' that hoteliers and others could bid into, if they had a good idea.

"This consultation is about finding out not just what the industry wants, but what our local Highlanders want."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Tourism supports 25,000 jobs across the Highland region

Highland Council's convener Bill Lobban said people were interested in "new opportunities to make the most of the tourism economy in the Highlands".

He added: "A local consultation will help us to gauge the level of support for a tourist levy here, which could provide the means for improving our infrastructure and protecting and enhancing our environment."

'Behind a bush'

In a report, officers said the consultation could include questions suggested in a Scottish government discussion paper on a visitor levy.

They include what positive and negative impacts such a tax could have, and how any revenue could be distributed fairly?

The report also said a levy would not apply to every visitor, such as children.

In September, MSPs heard that a tourist tax was needed to prevent people being put off visiting the Highlands because they "have to go to the toilet behind a bush".

Holyrood's tourism committee was told of the benefits large numbers of visitors bring to the economy and in supporting jobs.

But they concluded that pressure on roads, parking and public toilets also had to be considered.

The committee heard a tax would pay for improvements and ensure tourists were not given a bad impression.

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