Councillors agree further work following survey backing introduction of tourist levy

Highland councillors today approved the findings of a public consultation supporting the introduction of a Highland Transient Visitor Levy and committed to further work to develop an optimal scheme for Highland.

The results of more than 6600 responses gathered through online and face-to-face surveys, alongside a pre-consultation with the tourism industry and written submissions received from representatives from the tourism industry and local communities were considered by Members.

Members recognised the support for a Highland Transient Visitor Levy (TVL) scheme, evidenced in the 5,622 responses to the Council’s online questionnaire for businesses, residents and visitors, and the 950 face-to-face visitor surveys.

Almost two-thirds (65.1%) of all respondents to the online survey were in favour of a Highland TVL although this varied between businesses, residents and visitors. The greatest support was from residents, with more than three-quarters of respondents in favour. Overall, more of every group – residents, visitors and businesses – were in favour of a Highland TVL than were against.

Members also considered the observations on impact and design made across the consultation and committed to further consideration of how a TVL scheme might be designed and implemented to reflect the consultation findings and to mitigate potential negative impacts.

Key findings from the consultation were incorporated into a series of design principles approved at the meeting that will be used to shape future work and subsequent engagement with the Scottish Government. These include that:

  • A Highland TVL should be able to be applied in ways other than just a ‘bed tax’ on those staying in paid overnight accommodation;
  • Highland residents should be exempted from paying a Highland TVL;
  • Revenue should be ring-fenced to ‘tourism uses’, with continued work to determine what constitutes ‘tourism uses’ and how these are defined for Highland;
  • Options be explored for how some TVL revenue might be ring-fenced for use in the area of Highland in which it is raised.

The council recognises the challenges and considerations of introducing a Highland TVL raised through the consultation. However, this must be weighed up against overall levels of support found in the results, and the potential benefits to the region – not least enabling the Council to increase investment in maintaining and enhancing infrastructure used by visitors which will help support local economies, enhance the visitor experience and help Highland tourism become more sustainable. As a result, the Council has taken the decision that the net benefit to the region is positive and as such a TVL should be pursued.

There is of course much more work to be done to develop the details of a scheme design and implementation. The Scottish Government has not yet established the degree to which Highland will determine this, or it will be set nationally. By supporting a Highland TVL and deciding on some key design principles, the Council is in a stronger position to move forward working with Scottish Government and partners to design a scheme that best suits the unique needs of Highland, reflects the strong consultation evidence, and constructively addressees the challenges.

The Scottish Government has also been running a national consultation which closed on 2 December. During today’s meeting, Members considered and homologated the Council’s written response to the Scottish Government consultation and committed to continued work with the Scottish Government wherever possible to help shape other elements of the national approach to reflect the region’s needs and the results of the Highland consultation.

9 Dec 2019