Scotland’s Highland Council is considering introducing a “tourist tax” to help raise funds to improve local infrastructure. Referred to as a “transient visitor levy”, the new tax would require special legislation to implement, but councilors will first vote on whether or not to consult with the public before attempting to pass the bill.
The Highland Council is a local authority responsible for Highland, the largest governmental authority area in the U.K., and home to the majority of the world-famous Scottish Highlands. Every year, roughly 6.5 million people visit the area, with the tourism sector employing thousands of people directly, and indirectly supporting tens of thousands of other jobs.
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Of course, the introduction of new taxes means changes in price, which affects how competitive a region can be. However, the levy would likely come in the form of an additional £1 charge on overnight stays, and may not apply to everyone. Pensioners or children may be exempt, for example. Therefore, the overall price of a trip to the Scottish Highlands would not be dramatically affected.
A report commissioned by the Highland Council notes that other regions in Scotland have already started examining the possibility of a tourist levy, such as Aberdeen and Edinburgh, while cities such as New York and Paris already have similar measures in place.
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However, the report also acknowledges that in the United Kingdom, local councils have very little power when it comes to creating local taxes, with residential property tax being the main exception. Therefore, the new tax would either need to be introduced by parliament via primary legislation or by using secondary legislation to grant local authorities more power.
Earlier in the year, members of the tourism committee at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood were told that the increasing number of tourists were putting the region’s roads, car parks, and public toilets under immense pressure. Introducing a levy such as the one proposed could avoid scenarios where visitors are forced to “go to the toilet behind a bush”, the committee was told.
If implemented, it is estimated that the levy could bring in £5-10 million, which would be invested in improving infrastructure and facilities throughout the highland region.