Today, the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC) warned MSPs the Scottish Government’s proposals for a visitor levy cannot repeat the mistakes of short-term let licensing by dismissing small business concerns. The ASSC, now in its 45th year, led the charge against licensing and its many unintended consequences, now faces another regulatory threat with the government’s Visitor Levy Bill.
The Chief Executive of the ASSC, Fiona Campbell, appeared today before the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government Committee to provide evidence with other tourism stakeholders. Campbell, recently named as CEO of the Year at the Scottish Women’s Awards, outlined the ASSC’s opposition to the new levy but also stressed it would work constructively to ease the regulatory burden as a member of the Visitor Levy Expert Group.
Describing the levy as “the last thing that the self-catering sector needs at this time”, the ASSC argued it would not only increase the administrative burden for small business but would impact ordinary families from Scotland and the rest of the UK holidaying here, pushing up the cost of their stay and potentially discouraging visitors as a result.
The levy would add cost and complexity for those running on tight margins when the very same businesses have just been hit with the costs of STL licensing and planning regulations – and who may also see changes to letting thresholds for non-domestic rates. The industry felt it was “being shrunk by regulation while also being taxed on top.”
Unlike many European destinations who have tourist levies in place, the UK has one of the highest rates of VAT. Campbell stated the Bill’s Financial Memorandum did not estimate the financial impact for businesses if VAT is applied to the levy and this “needed to be urgently revisited”. There are also major concerns that cash-strapped councils will use the levy as a revenue raiser for general spend, underlining the need for monies to be ringfenced for tourism-infrastructure only.
The puzzling omission of campervans from the levy was also highlighted by the ASSC, a decision which could exacerbate problems seen in local communities.
Fiona Campbell, CEO of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, commented:
“With the visitor levy proposals, the Scottish Government must ensure history does not repeat itself with the disastrous experience of short-term let licensing. The regulatory cumulative impact could cripple businesses at a time when recovery is precarious and we should be supporting them for a sustainable and prosperous future.
The levy runs the risk of damaging the competitiveness of Scottish tourism at a time when our domestic market remains sluggish. Price sensitive consumers may switch to holiday in York instead of Edinburgh, or the Lake District instead of the Highlands, hitting local economies and communities.
Given the challenging circumstances for Scottish tourism – from pandemic recovery, cost of living and STL regulations – now is not the right time. However, if the Scottish Government are adamant this must go ahead, our is message to policymakers is simple: if you chose to do this, do it right. Let’s not have Short-term let Licensing Mark II.”
The ASSC’s written evidence on the local visitor levy to the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government Committee can be accessed here.
The Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee Meeting Evidence session can be viewed here.