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The Proclaimers’ new song “The Streets of Edinburgh” comes at a time when the city is looking very carefully at those streets and the accommodation lining them. The travel trade media has also started to pick up on Edinburgh Council’s bid to introduce not only a Tourist Tax on hotels in the city, but also trying to clamp down on Airbnb lets, which they say is changing the face of property ownership.

Edinburgh is a particular target for imposing some kind of tax on visitors, being the most visited city after London in the UK, and therefore ripe for picking.  The whole subject of tourist taxes is well known to the Scottish travel trade because we have to keep up to date with what is going on around the world, and it is this inevitable creep that will hit the UK soon. We are used to city and hotel taxes in many parts of the world, plus the notorious “resort fees” which are now becoming more commonplace. Las Vegas has a lot to answer for………..currently all 62,000 on the Las Vegas Strip apply resort fees. Although restricted mainly to the USA, Mexico and the Caribbean, across the border in Canada they have got in on the act as well, and although illegal in many countries, resort fees are a particular deterrent to tourism.

The arguments for and against a tourist tax can be discussed long and hard, and whilst Edinburgh could probably sustain a £1 a night tax imposition quite easily, other destinations in Scotland - and the rest of the UK who are watching with interest - would do well to think carefully before following en masse. However insignificant a tax may seem, it does have an affect on visitor numbers, and whilst SPAA members are mainly in the business of outbound travel, air routes require traffic in both directions to sustain them, so we need to pay particular attention to any tourist tax being applied.

Majorca and Ibiza doubled their tourist tax on the 1st May this year which will apply up till the end of October, then it will drop by 50%. The Spanish government then demanded that VAT at 10% apply on top of the tax, so it is easy to see how a £1 levy in Edinburgh could suddenly become £2 and so on. Once councils see money flowing in, it’s difficult not to become greedy, especially when they are under so much financial pressure at the moment.

And there is the conundrum. Tourist taxes can be seen as a good thing for tourism, but only so long as the revenue is used for tourism projects and not for filling empty coffers for other uses. Let’s hope common sense prevails and we use the money wisely. Airbnb on the other hand will have to adapt to new rules, not just in Edinburgh, but in many cities around the world where their success has been both a blessing and a curse.

As the Proclaimers said  – Down greasy potholed roadways / I watch the traffic crawl / But for the cars and buses / I give no thought at all / I wonder at her health / How with this human wealth / She does renew herself.


Ken McLeod
President - SPAA
03 September 2018