Conference News March 2019 - Page 27

27 Taxation Europe’s most expensive city? The bed tax debate rages on in Edinburgh, where conflicting interests and budget cuts have left the city in a complex political situation. Stuart Wood investigates he bed tax keeps popping up around the UK, like whack-a-mole,” says UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls. “Every time it gets thrown out in one council, it reappears somewhere else – halfway across the country.” Nicholls was speaking at the Master Innholders Conference, a gathering of the general managers of the UK’s top hotels. And the bed tax, second only to Brexit, is high on the agenda for everyone in the room. The bed tax, or Transient Visitor Levy (TVL), would be an added charge of perhaps £1 or £2 per night, paid by hotel visitors on top of their existing room fee. It is designed to provide funding for destinations and convention bureaux across the UK to market themselves. Since CN reported on the issue in our December cover feature, it has come to the fore in Edinburgh. The City of Edinburgh council released the results from a consultation on the TVL in January, where it asked residents, visitors and businesses to offer their opinions. It found that 90% of residents who responded were supportive of the tax, while 51% of Edinburgh's accommodation providers were in support. That second figure is perhaps most indicative of where the debate currently finds itself. Those within the hospitality and events industries are split down the middle, with some strong opinions held on both sides of the fence. Nicholls and UKHospitality argue that an extra fee, on top of the UK’s already high levels of tax and VAT, would negatively impact business. “Unnecessary regulations,” she said, “would be damaging to future growth.” Furthermore, Nicholls announced to the room at the Master Innholders Conference that UKHospitality had received a public commitment from tourism minister Michael Ellis, who said he would not be giving councils the authority to implement a tourism tax. Ellis does not have sway over the Scottish government, however, which will come to an independent decision regarding TVL. It is currently in the process of drafting legislation, which is informed by the recent evidence collected from its consultation on the issue. If legislation does go through, it could give Scottish councils individual autonomy to decide whether or not a tourist tax will be implemented in their region. A case for? However, there is vocal support for the tax in Scotland. Among the most prominent supporters of TVL is Marketing Edinburgh, an organisation dedicated to promoting Edinburgh to the wider world. Writing in The Scotsman, John Donnelly, Marketing Edinburgh’s chief executive, said: “Our growing tourism appeal is set against a need to support the council in managing the consequences of that success. “More people coming to the city is brilliant news for our economy – but it puts increased pressure on our ability to service them. “So, how can we secure sustainable investment to maintain our position as one of the world’s best destinations, without compromising the city experience for