A tourism tax which could be introduced in Wales has sparked a heated debate, with locals dubbing it ‘crazy’, ‘short sighted’ and ‘utter madness’.
Visitors to Wales may be forced to pay a visitor levy to stay in the country in the future, if a planned consultation which will be launched by the Welsh Government this autumn is approved.
Leading industry figure Ashford Price, a stalwart of the Welsh Association of Visitor Attractions (WAVA) has said it will damage the country’s tourism sector, and that the charge reflected an ‘anti-English’ agenda.
He added that the idea was ‘unfathomable’ particularly for the tourism industry, which has been slowly recovering from the coronavirus pandemic.
Visitors to Wales may be forced to pay a visitor levy to set foot in the country in the future
‘If this Welsh tourism tax does come about, how many of our potential customers will simply vote with their feet and go to Devon, Ireland, or Scotland rather than pay yet another tax at a time when they are trying to cope with a personal cost of living crisis,’ he said, according to the Daily Post.
‘From the many English contacts I have made in tourism over the years, I gather there is now a growing feeling by some in England that the Welsh Government is anti-English, and also anti-tourism.
‘In many Welsh regions, 80 per cent of their visitors come from England. Can Wales really afford to lose this market?’
He added that other devolved governments have attempted to introduce a similar charge.
‘All the other devolved areas have looked at the idea of a tourism tax. The most recent was Scotland. In the end, they all have abandoned the idea owing to the potential damage to their tourism industries,’ he said.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford (pictured) will launch a consultation on the plans
The Welsh Tourism Tax: What could it mean for visitors to Wales?
How could the tax work?
No draft legislative proposals have been published as of yet so it’s not yet clear how the tax could work. There are concerns that the tax will hit those with second homes in Wales, and the taxation of holiday lets will increase.
Locals are also concerned that they will be charged for holidaying in their own country.
What is clear is that local authorities will be able to decide whether or not they implement a charge to visitors
How much could visitors be charged?
It’s not clear yet how much visitors could be charged, but if it is similar to the proposed tourist tax in Edinburgh, they could be charged up to £2 per night per room.
When could it be implemented?
The charge could be implemented following the consultation process, which will start in the autumn.
What happens next?
A consultation on the proposals will launch in autumn 2022. It will provide a range of views to be considered
Do other countries have a tourism tax?
Many countries charge a tax and you are likely to have paid one before, but may not have noticed as this can be included in the airline fee.
Countries already charging a tax
Scottish National Party (SNP) councillors announced this week that they will be pushing for a similar tourist tax in Edinburgh, if they form the city’s next administration next month.
The £2 per night tax would apply per room per night and be capped at £14 in a move which would also affect individual’s letting their homes through companies such as AirBnB.
Edinburgh City Council backed a ‘Transient Visitor Levy’ in 2019 as a way of generating revenue, but the coronavirus pandemic put the plans on the back burner.
Others argue an overnight charge could be put to good use, improving facilities for locals and visitors.
The wider debate includes concerns over second homes in Wales, along with fears of plans to increase the taxation of holiday lets, which is seen by many as a much bigger threat to Welsh tourism.
Locals are also voicing concerns about the impact of holidaying in their own country, and questioning where the extra revenues generated by it would go.
If the levy is introduced following consultation, local authorities will be able to decide whether or not to implement it in their areas.
In a recent straw poll of public sentiment, Mr Price, who runs the National Showcaves Centre for Wales, seems to have support, with comments showing a general opposition to the proposed tax.
A number of people have vowed to avoid Wales if the charge is introduced.
‘I holiday in Wales three times a year but due to costs of fuel going up, that is now only going to be once a year,’ one said.
‘If another tax has to be paid just for holidaying in Wales, that will stop altogether.’
Another holidaymaker said: ‘I pay far more for my family holiday than I would if self-booking a foreign holiday.
‘Accommodation is more expensive, eating out is more expensive, and the need to buy petrol, pay for car parking and pay for attractions when the weather is dull all add extra costs to a British holiday.
‘A tourist tax in England, Wales and Scotland would render the trip uneconomic.’
Another added: ‘I’ll go to the Lake District then’.
Their comments chime with the general feeling in the debate that holidaying in the UK is already an expensive commitment.
In recent years, there has been a boom in staycations in the UK. But many believe this is down to the lack of overseas alternatives as a result of the pandemic, rather than a cheaper alternative to flying abroad.
There are also fears the increased cost of living will see domestic tourism decline, and that this will be exacerbated by a tourism tax.
Many feel that over-tourism is a temporary problem which will be resolved when the ‘Benidormers return to Spain’ by 2023.
One person said: ‘The problem from tourism in Wales is not those who stay in hotels, campsites or B&Bs but the day-trippers and campervans who contribute very little to the local economy.
‘In rural areas this is partly due to the lack of facilities to encourage them to spend money.’
Tourism provides a substantial contribution to Wales, having contributed more than £5bn annually in 2019, but there are concerns a levy could have an impact on groups who support the visitor economy.
Wales is home to several heritage sites which attract thousands of volunteers to the country, prompting many to question how they would fare with the proposed tax.
For some, the potential levy has been welcomed.
One accommodation provider said: ‘A tourist tax would enable more to be invested in local services that would benefit locals and visitors alike, therefore increasing the value of the offer.
‘And if a few don’t want to pay then so be it, stay away, there’s not a shortage of people wanting to come and enjoy all Wales has to offer.’
One person said north Wales attracts ‘high quality visitors to whom a modest tourist tax is no problem’. (Pictured – Snowdonia National Park in north Wales
North Wales is also home to the colourful village and gardens of Portmeirion
South Wales boasts coastal views as shown in Barafundle Bay in Pembrokeshire
One person added: ‘Every quality tourist area in countries and regions worthwhile visiting, charges a tourist tax.
‘North Wales is a high quality tourist area, capable of attracting high quality visitors, to whom a modest tourist tax is no problem.’
And another said: ‘If someone chooses not to come here because they have to pay an extra £1 a night then they’re not likely to be people who were going to be spending a lot anyway.
‘Tourism is important but the communities where tourism is centered is important too. If this tax will help with the upkeep then it’s a better experience for all.’
The Welsh Government has said visitor levies are ‘a common feature in tourist destinations internationally’, with the revenues being used to benefit locals, visitors and businesses in the area.
In a statement released earlier this year, Rebecca Evans, Minister for Finance and Local Government, said: ‘The introduction and subsequent use of such a levy would enable destinations in Wales to be enjoyed for generations to come and encourage a more sustainable approach to tourism.
‘[Visitor levies] are an opportunity for visitors to make an investment in local infrastructure and services, which in turn make tourism a success.
The Welsh Government will launch a consultation on the proposals in the autumn
Visitors to popular spots including Benidorm and the Costa Blanca now pay two euros per night to stay in the area
A proposed levy in Venice could be introduced from this summer, varying between €3 (£2.50) and €10 (£8.30) depending on whether it is low or high season
‘Without such a levy, local communities face an undue burden to fund local services and provisions on which tourists rely.’
Holiday spots including Spain have their own local tourism taxes. Visitors to popular spots including Benidorm and the Costa Blanca now pay two euros per night to stay in the area.
This year alone, a tourist fee of 300 (around £6) is set to be introduced in Thailand, while Venice could be charging tourists from the summer.
The proposed levy to the Italian city would vary between €3 (£2.50) and €10 (£8.30) depending on whether it is low or high season.
By the end of 2022, non-EU citizens will need to fill out a €7 (£5.82) application form to enter the European Union.
Those aged under 18 and over 70 will not need to pay the charge.
Bhutan holds the record for the highest fee, charging visitors a minimum of $250 (around £190) per day during high season, and slightly less in low season. The fee covers accommodation, transportation in the country, a guide, food and entry fees.
A spokesperson for the Welsh Government said: ‘The careful process of developing proposals for a levy, translating them into legislation, and then into delivery and implementation spans years, and will be subject to approval by the Senedd.’