Highlands & Islands

Highland tourist tax 'could raise £10m a year'

Glenfinnan monument and Loch Shiel Image copyright DEA / M. BORCHI
Image caption The Highland region attracts millions of visitors a year

A Highland tourist tax could raise up to £10m pounds a year, according to council officials.

The estimate was released as Highland Council began a public consultation on the controversial plan.

Supporters claim it could raise funds to support local infrastructure but some businesses are worried it could deter visitors.

The council has yet to make a final decision on whether to implement a Transient Visitor Levy (TVL).

Approximately four million overnight visitors come to the Highland Council area annually as well as about two million day visitors.

Council officials have been studying similar schemes operating in other countries.

An online questionnaire is now available, aimed at residents and businesses, but also open to visitors. The consultation will also include face-to-face questions.

The council has said the money raised could be reinvested in tourism infrastructure as well as relieving general financial pressures.

Committee chairman Allan Henderson said: "Highland welcomes visitors numbering roughly 25 times our resident population every year. Whilst visitors are very welcome, some of Highland's infrastructure and services are struggling under the pressure of these additional users.

"Ultimately, the council, with the help of everyone who responds to the consultation, needs to decide what is better for our region: introducing a visitor levy, with its potential positive and negative impacts - or not implementing a visitor levy, avoiding potential negative impacts but limiting possible investment and therefore leaving the region with the problems we currently face."

Image caption The growth of visitor numbers to areas such as Skye has put pressure on local infrastructure

Some business leaders have expressed concern that the tourism tax could drive away visitors.

Highlands and Islands development manger for the Federation of Small Businesses, David Richardson said: "We would argue that protecting, preserving, enhancing and encouraging the economy is fundamental to all our futures.

"The Highland Council makes no secret of its determination to raise money by taxing visitors. And it thinks by doing so that it will have no negative impact on tourism.

"But our research over the past three-years shows that a substantial majority of businesses are against a new visitor tax. For a whole variety of reasons."

The Scottish government has committed to introducing legislation by 2021 which would allow local authorities throughout Scotland to implement similar levies.

The online survey on the Highland Council website is open to the public until 20 October.