Could a “tourist tax” for Scotland help wild places?

Published: 31st October 2019

The Scottish Government is currently considering whether local authorities should have the power to apply a levy on overnight visitors.

The Scottish Government is currently considering whether local authorities should have the power to apply a levy on visitors staying overnight – in other words, a “tourist tax.” Many people will be familiar with this from visits abroad – typically a small fee is added to the cost of your overnight accommodation and which can then be used to invest in tourist facilities and projects to ensure visitors have a positive experience as well as to reduce the impacts that tourists can have on an area.

Why is the Trust interested?

Bla Bheinn

Our wildest landscapes are often cited by visitors and marketers alike as world class.  Recent years have seen a rapid growth in visitor numbers around the properties in the Trust’s care and other dramatic and special landscapes. 

Tourism generated by our incredible landscape brings vital income to remote, rural communities – but there can also be negative impacts from high visitor numbers, especially when they are concentrated in particular places.  Roads can get clogged up with traffic, parking areas get full and/or people park in dangerous places or cause obstruction for local people.  Litter and human waste can become a problem, whilst popular footpaths suffer without investment.  And special places may not feel so special anymore due to the sheer volume of people visiting at any one time.

These impacts have been aggravated by the sharing of “must see” sites on social media, whilst local government cuts in public toilet provision, bin collections and countryside ranger services also contribute to the problem.  As a result, communities in particularly popular places can feel “under siege” – for example, on parts of Skye and along the North Coast 500 route. 

Central government in Scotland is making some visitor infrastructure funding available but in the absence of adequate national - and local authority - funding and resources, maintaining the quality of the visitor experience and dealing with the impacts puts a substantial burden on volunteers from local community groups, community land trusts and conservation charities. Communities, landowners and land managers are being increasingly empowered, encouraged or forced (depending on perspectives and circumstances) to take on infrastructure such as car parks or toilets. 

Is a tourist tax the answer? Scottish Government consultation on a “transient visitor levy”

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on a possible tourist tax.  Discussion about a possible tourist tax is of interest to the Trust because it could be used to raise funds for investment to reduce the current pressures on both the natural environment and local communities. For example, footpath maintenance is vital to protect fragile habitats  as well as to visitor experience, yet funding can be on a very piecemeal approach and largely unsupported by government. 

You can read the Scottish Government’s consultation document here

Responding to the consultation: making the case for environmental sustainability in tourism

The Scottish Government’s consultation is open for comment until 2 December.  Over the next few weeks we’ll be pulling together our response.  We aim to share this with you here as soon as it’s ready.  Points we expect to emphasise in our response include:-

  • any tourist tax needs to be part of a wider Scotland tourism strategy that is based on an ethos of environmental sustainability;
  • the economic benefits from visitors and any levies charged must be used to support local mitigation of visitor impacts on the natural environment – for example, investment in footpaths, ranger services etc;
  • consideration should be given to revenue from any tourist tax to be used to fund investment in natural infrastructure. For example, a proportion of funds could be used to fund ecological restoration and enhancement projects, particularly at a landscape-scale;
  • any tourist tax should be spent in areas of most genuine need - this will require full community consultation and participation in planning the management of visitors and their impacts. Existing partnerships such as the Nevis Landscape Partnership and North West Highlands Geopark are just two examples of organisations with the direct, local experience to help.

Please consider sending in your own response.  It’s a Scottish Government consultation but that doesn’t preclude people with an interest in this issue or valuable experience/feedback from responding from further afield!

How to respond

Respond by Monday 2 December using the Scottish Government's consultation hub, Citizen Space

20 Nov 2019 - we have submitted our response. You can read this in the downloads below

For more information please email Mel Nicoll, Campaigns Co-ordinator

Thank you for taking action!

Related reading

Field Notes: a visitor’s experience by Policy Officer Hebe Carus

Field Notes: Travelling the North Coast 500 by public transport: Trust members call for help as they aim to raise awareness of traffic congestion in the Highlands

Bla Bheinn car park upgrade set to begin: Trust hires local contractor to install toilets and expand parking spaces at foot of popular Skye mountain

Field Notes: Counting people at Sandwood: Quinag conservation officer Romany Garnett reports on an initiative to monitor increasing visitor numbers at Sandwood

Trust funds community conservation projects: Local projects in North Harris, West Sutherland and the Lake District benefit from the Trust's conservation fund

Staff Blog: Lingering landscapes: Kevin Lelland, head of development and communications, ponders the role of slow tourism in and around the Trust's Sandwood property