A ‘tourist tax’ on visitors to the Highlands is currently being considered.
Highland Council today launched a consultation on a potential Highland Transient Visitor Levy.
The council has not yet made a decision on whether to implement a Transient Visitor Levy (TVL), also known as a tourist tax. In December 2018 it committed to consulting Highland residents, businesses and visitors on a potential scheme.
The consultation, launched at the Environment, Development and Infrastructure (EDI) Committee, has been informed by detailed research into other regions’ and countries’ Visitor Levy schemes and the Council’s Pre-Consultation meetings with tourism industry stakeholders across Highland.
Running until Autumn 2019, the main Consultation consists of two components: an online questionnaire aimed at residents and tourism businesses, but also open to visitors; and targeted face-to-face questionnaires with visitors at locations across Highland, conducted by the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism at Glasgow Caledonian University.
The council has also produced a short video explaining the Council’s position and the consultation.
Highland welcomes approximately four million overnight visitors a year, and another two million day visitors, including cruise visitors.
The council’s rationale for considering a visitor levy is that visitors should help contribute to the maintenance and development of the free public services and infrastructure they use. In the context of the council’s unprecedented budget pressures, revenue from a Levy could be used strategically to manage the impact of tourism and help the Council invest to ensure the region continues to be a great place to live and visit.
Depending on how a scheme was designed, a visitor levy could generate between £5 and £10 million each year to invest in Highland tourism.
EDI Committee Chair, Councillor Allan Henderson, explained: ‘Highland welcomes visitors numbering roughly 25 times our resident population every year. Whilst visitors are very welcome, some of Highland’s infrastructure and services are struggling under the pressure of these additional users.
‘Ultimately, the council, with the help of everyone who responds to the Consultation, needs to decide what is better for our region: introducing a Visitor Levy, with its potential positive and negative impacts? – Or not implementing a Visitor Levy, avoiding potential negative impacts but limiting possible investment and therefore leaving the region with the problems we currently face.’
Council leader, Councillor Margaret Davidson, said: ‘Tourism is of huge importance to the Highlands. We recognise the benefits, challenges and impact that tourists have across the area and are committed to supporting this industry to ensure its success is sustainable.
‘A Highland Transient Visitor Levy is one option the council is considering to raise income to manage the challenges tourism is both facing and contributing to in Highland.
‘The consultation has been shaped by lots of research and engagement with the public and tourism industry to ensure we are asking the right questions. It does not simply gather information on people’s support or opposition. It gives respondents lots of opportunity to help us shape what a Levy might look like were it to be implemented. This includes important questions such as who should pay? How much? And how? And how revenue from a Visitor Levy could be invested to deliver maximum benefit for Highland?’
The Scottish Government has committed to introducing legislation by 2021 that would allow local authorities in Scotland to implement a Transient Visitor Levy. The Highland Council will use information gathered through its Consultation to ensure Highland is represented in the Government’s National Consultation.
Findings from the Visitor Survey, Open Consultation and research will be reported to Full Council on 12 December.
The online questionnaire and video are available at Highland.gov.uk/TVL