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Published on Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Travel industry is to blame for tourist taxes

Responsible Travel believes tourist taxes are a fair, practical and long overdue tactic to help offset the negative impacts of the tourism industry but says their effectiveness will be limited unless they are part of an overarching plan for responsible tourism management. Rob Perkins explains why.

"Edinburgh councillors recently backed a measure to introduce a £2 per night charge on visitors staying for up to a week, making it the first British city to join the two-thirds of EU member states that currently impose a form of occupancy tax on tourists. At Responsible Travel we've been anticipating this for a while. It's a predictably controversial decision, and it's also one that's entirely justified.

The tourism industry is often seen as benign, but that is a misconception. When it's not sustainably managed, tourism can put significant strain on local communities and environments, including but not limited to: overcrowding on roads and public transport; rising rents and reductions in rental accommodation due to platforms such as Airbnb; higher prices in local shops and restaurants, and pressure on public services. And while some would argue that tourism in return boosts employment and infrastructure, the idea that this is a fair quid pro quo is a fallacy. The industry depends on suitable infrastructure and jobs for its profits.

So it's easy to understand why so many destinations see the attraction in imposing taxes. They can generate useful funds to counter the effects of tourism; they can be collected relatively easily, and of course they can be adjusted for seasonality, or for different types of traveller. And this latter point is a key issue when it comes to overtourism, a growing and troubling phenomenon.

It cannot be denied that some tourists have greater value to a destination than others. A person that stays for a week in a locally owned hotel, eating in locally run restaurants, using local guides, will contribute significantly to the local economy. Cruise passengers that arrive in their thousands, swamp a city for a few hours and purchase little except a few souvenirs before leaving, do not. It is only fair, and it is right, that they should be taxed more.

Here's the main problem with tourism, as we see it. Too many people view it as their right to travel wherever they want, whenever they want, and too many operators remain happy to encourage this opinion. In many destinations, this is being allowed to trump the rights of local residents not to have their lives and homes disrupted, and to outweigh the needs of the environment. Such an imbalance is simply not sustainable.

We believe that taxes have their place, but that they can only ever be part of the solution when it comes to overtourism. What's needed is for local officials and tourism planners to drop the idea that ever-increasing visitor numbers is always a good thing, and instead focus on attracting the right numbers, and the right type of tourists, according to the needs of different destinations.
This includes proactive management of visitor numbers, such as by ticketing and timed entries, and better diversification of the tourism offer so that other, less-visited places benefit from increased tourism while those that are too busy are promoted less. But at the heart of all of it are two key points:

- Local residents must have a say in tourism planning and development
- The needs of the environment must be taken into account and take precedence over those of tourists

Raising taxes is entirely legitimate, and until responsible tourism planning becomes the norm, we can expect to see a lot more of it."


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