A public consultation on the introduction of a tourist tax is to be held in 2019.
Highland Council will hold the consultation and say that during their public engagement activity in November, there was support for a possible tourist levy.
At a meeting of The Highland Council held yesterday (Thursday 13 December) in Inverness, Members agreed that in addition to the Council submitting its response to the Local Governance Review on tourism taxes - being carried out by the Scottish Government and Cosla – the Council will highlight that it is to carry out its own consultation on the issue of a tourism levy.
The proposed consultation will commence in early 2019 and be completed in the spring.
Highland Council Convener, Bill Lobban, said: “We are already hearing in our engagement with the public that people are interested in new opportunities to make the most of tourism economy in the Highlands. A local consultation will help us to gauge the level of support for a tourist levy here, which could provide the means for improving our infrastructure and protecting and enhancing our environment.”
Councillor Maxine Smith, Leader of the Opposition, added: “I have been lobbying for this for several years now. I sincerely believe there is a way to raise money that will benefit both local Council services, that are affected by so many tourists, such as potholes, toilets etc., but that will also benefit the tourism sector.
“Anything we make better in the Highlands will be good for all, not just tourists, but if you are visiting an area and it cannot provide you with quality ancillary products, such as sufficient layby’s, toilets, parking sites, waste services then you are less likely to return. If people visit us here and have a first class time, they will tell others and also return another year.
“The industry should not be worried, they are not being asked to pay anything extra, it is only a few £’s from their patrons, which is commonplace in Europe and works well. We could reach a situation in 5-10 years where we have spare monies, which can be set aside specifically for a ”tourism fund” that hoteliers and others could bid into, if they had a good idea. This consultation is about finding out not just what the industry wants, but what our local Highlanders want.
“We all know funding has been cut so we must be pro-active in looking at raising our own funds. The Highlands has a massive tourist industry and this is not going to change simply because some of them are asked to pay a few more £’s each day for their visit.”
Kate Forbes MSP said: "Highland Council is perfectly entitled to host its own consultation on the Tourist Tax to determine local support and workability.
"The Scottish Government has been clear on its position, and is convening a ‘national discussion’ to allow different views on a tourism tax to be heard.
"It is important that the current debate is supported by objective research with proper analysis of the pros and cons of a tourism tax.
"Any new powers would require legislation and it's important that local people in the Highlands get their say. I know from chatting to people that there are mixed views."