Moray Council’s governing administration has backed a tourism tax for the region in an attempt to bolster investment in under-pressure services.
The local SNP group has supported the principal of a £1 per night levy on visitor stays – estimating the tax could generate more than £800,000 a year and push the region to “another level”.
The council currently faces slashing services across the region in an attempt to save £14million over the next two years in order to stave off bankruptcy.
Tourism bosses and communities have already expressed concern about the effect of recent budget cuts on the industry – including shutting a dozen public toilets, some at popular visitor hotspots.
Yesterday, council leader Graham Leadbitter said a tourism tax could be used to maintain investment in facilities at a time of tightening budgets.
However, opponents of the proposal have criticised it for discouraging potential customers to travel while hitting businesses in the pocket.
Mr Leadbitter said: “It’s a real opportunity for Moray. We all know there are significant challenges providing the best possible infrastructure to support tourism ranging from the simplest things like public toilets – but it can also include expanding car parks at tourist hotspots, improving our popular paths, tourism signs, right through to promotion and marketing.
“Other councils are also keen to explore the opportunities that a tourist tax can bring so it may well be an idea whose time has come.
“An efficient and appropriate means of collecting it will need to be put in place though so that money collected is reinvested in our visitor economy.”
Mr Leadbitter added the SNP group would begin conversations with industry leaders in the region as well as other councils across the country, MSPs and the Scottish Government to build support for the idea.
Moray is the latest region to back the principal of introducing the tax following the councils in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and the Highlands. The initiative also has the backing of the alliance of Scottish councils Cosla.
However, the Scottish Government has stressed that there are currently “no plans” to introduce a levy on the tourism sector.
Tourism reached record highs in Moray and Speyside last year with 806,000 people visiting the area – bringing with them an economic impact of £128.8million.
David Bremner, chairman of Moray Council’s planning and regulatory service committee, believes the charge will help to boost visitor numbers.
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He said: “A tourist tax is a huge opportunity to boost our tourism investment, which would make Moray more attractive to repeat visitors and take our visitor economy up another level.
“That in turn means better facilities, more employment and more spend in the wider economy which will support hundreds of local businesses.”
But Moray MP Douglas Ross questioned the proposal, and said: “The last thing the tourism industry in Moray needs is the imposition of extra taxation.
“While I understand that the council is in desperate financial straits due to a very unfair financial settlement from the Scottish Government, targeting our tourism businesses with a new tax to make up the shortfall is simply wrong.”