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A Tax on tourism is necessary

Disruptive stag and hen dos must pay their fair share

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Image Credit: Luke Snell

The City of York is home to 6.9 million visitors a year, and local councillors along with many residents of the city believe our narrow cobbled streets are gradually becoming bloated within the ancient city walls. With 500 000 additional tourists visiting York over the past five years, it is no surprise to discover that tourism ploughs a whopping £564m into the local economy. This unprecedented level of growth has resulted in an ambitious target set by City of York Council (CYC) of wanting the ‘tourism effect’ to smash the £1bn benchmark by 2025. With this in mind, one cannot help but wonder why CYC should want to appear to reduce these numbers by introducing a so called ‘Tourist Tax’?

Of course, such a tax is not designed to reduce footfall, but to instead provide an additional source of revenue that can be reinvested into mitigating the negative effects of tourism, and these effects are growing at an alarming rate. Yet to be devolved to local authorities, tax raising powers are very much in the hands of Westminster. The City Council does however have the ability to introduce a ‘Voluntary Levy’ which is proposed to take the form of an additional £1 charge per night for hotel guests. In my opinion, this has been grossly misjudged, as across the UK and indeed throughout Europe, ‘day-trippers’ are identified as posing the biggest hindrance to economic prosperity.

No place on Earth are the effects of mass tourism felt more than the city of Venice. As a frequent visitor to Venice during the Carnevale di Venezia season, I find myself to be acquainted with tourism tax. Finding an additional €7-€10 on the end of your nightly tariff is commonplace in any Venetian hotel, and subsequently over €34m is raised annually which is spent on maintaining the historic fabric of the city and keeping the streets safe. Venice has recently sought to tackle those who contribute the least to the city’s economy by swapping hotel tax for a rate of up to €10 aimed at ‘day-trippers’. Like York, Venice’s tourists are predominantly those who come and go in less than 24 hours; 15 million to be precise. An additional levy placed on transport, collected by operators and passed onto authorities, will undoubtedly return a healthy income. It is indeed this levy that I believe should be adopted by City of York Council to target the hen and stag do’s, and not penalise those who are here to stay in our hotels and contribute most to our local economy. York Lib Dems’ 2019 manifesto proposes to explore “future opportunities for a Tourist Levy to help generate new investment.’’ One hopes that sufficient consultation will be carried out amongst local hoteliers, York’s BID, retailers and restaurateurs, to ensure that ‘’investment’’ is not hindered by a poorly-targeted levy.

At the University of York, we are not strangers to facing a levy in our day-to-day student endeavours. Should you find yourself to be purchasing a ‘single-use cup’ at any beverage outlet throughout campus, a ‘Latte Levy’ to the tune of 20p will be charged in addition to your hot drink. Since its introduction in January 2019, the seemingly nominal charge has amounted to over £22 000 being raised which we are told is to be reinvested into reducing the University’s environmental impact and other community projects. This levy does indeed produce tangible results, and I’m confident that should such a scheme be replicated across the city, albeit in a different form (i.e transport, food outlets etc…) this would provide substantial revenue that could topup the tourism budget. There is a taste for the TourismTax as long as it avoids creating injustice amongst those who have come to enjoy our enchanting ancient city and not damage its historic landscape. The prospect of tourism alone contributing up to £1bn to York’s economy over the next decade is an exciting one. This prospect must however provide the opportunity to successfully capitalise on the increasing number of ‘day-trippers’ whose litter and anti-social behaviour is having a damaging effect on the historic fabric of our streetscape, and the ability for local residents and visitors alike to enjoy their once-peaceful surroundings.

Along with other major tourist destinations in the UK such as Bath and Birmingham, it is my conclusion that a ‘Tourist Levy’ must be sought to provide much-needed additional revenue to mitigate the negative externalities of mass tourism. After all, it is the sheer beauty and unique landscape of historical destinations such as York and Venice that attracts tourists from around the world in their millions for visits every year. Isn’t it ironic that the landscape they come to visit is being eroded by the visit itself?

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