HOTELIERS have attacked the possibility of York getting a “tourist tax” – claiming it will lead to visitors deserting the city for its rivals.

The Fairness Commission, set up by City of York Council last year to give residents their say over the city’s future, has recommended looking at charging every tourist a levy of up to £1 a night during their stay.

Council officers have not ruled out the idea and are now expected to assess how it would affect the city’s tourism sector.

But Lionel Chatard, who chairs the York Hoteliers Association, said hotels would fiercely oppose the suggestion – also dubbed a York Visitor Heritage Contribution – and introducing it would be “a terrible mistake”.

The commission’s interim report will go before the council’s cabinet next week, with its other recommendations including spending less on roads, cutting ward committee budgets, council tax rises of between 3.5 and six per cent, a York Youth Card discount scheme for businesses and extending YoZone bus discounts.

In its report, the independent body said a tourist tax could “raise a significant amount of money each year to help alleviate the pressures of being a world-class tourist destination” and ease the strain on the council’s budgets for supporting tourism.

It also said caps on charges could be set to prevent visitors being put off coming to York, but Mr Chatard, director and general manager of Middlethorpe Hall & Spa, said: “Every hotel in York pays substantial amounts in business rates, and an additional tax for tourists – which is not applied in cities we compete with, such as Edinburgh, Chester and Bath – would be a terrible mistake.

“If York suddenly became £1 a night more expensive to visit, I’d be extremely concerned we would lose a lot of visitors as they may choose to go to other cities or abroad. The economic climate is already challenging for hotels and it would be very bad PR for the city.

“The council needs to be very, very careful about this, and we would oppose it strongly.”

Visit York chief executive Gillian Cruddas said it fully supported the Commission’s aims, but she said: “It is vitally important to protect and nurture York’s important tourism sector, which generates 23,000 jobs in the city.

“Most importantly, York has to be able to compete on a level playing field with other cities across Britain and Europe. Visit York’s tourism strategy focuses on income generation and visitor spend, rather than volume, and visitors already generate £443 million of income for York annually.

“These recommendations by the Commission would need to be very carefully considered in light of this.”

A report by the council’s strategy and development officer, Jane Collingwood, recommended assessing “the full implications” of a tourism tax and possible alternatives, as well as consulting with Visit York and tourism businesses, but said the suggestion raised “conflicting issues”.

“The council would not want to implement a charge or tax which could deter visitors, impose an administrative burden on local businesses and potentially undermine the profitability of this sector of the local economy,” said the report.

“However, the council is prepared to explore all ideas which could help increase income to the city and the council from this sector.”

York Press: The Press - Comment

City taxes are not the answer

CITY taxes are nothing new on the Continent. Most hotels are charged with collecting a daily sum for each person staying with them, but nothing like it exists in this country.

So there will be many who fear the worst if York implements the Fairness Commission’s recommendation to charge a flat rate of up to £1 per person, per night’s stay.

Dubbed a York Visitor Heritage Contribution to help alleviate the pressures of being a world-class tourist destination, it would undoubtedly produce some much-needed revenue, but at what cost?

Visitors already generate £443 million of income each year and while an extra £1 may seem a small amount, for groups or individuals staying a number of nights, this might prove one charge too far if it causes room tariffs to rise.

And the timing is not great. Things are tight enough and we should be doing all in our power to help support local businesses. It will be down to the hotels to pay the tax one way or another and that may lead to an even heftier tax bill. Perhaps less of an administration problem for the large chains, but certainly a headache for B&B owners.

Lionel Chatard, chair of York Hoteliers Association, says hotels would fiercely oppose the suggestion, adding it would be a terrible mistake. Others ask whether another way couldn’t be found to raise this money and we agree.

Major destination rivals such as Edinburgh and Bath don’t charge a tourist tax and we have to ask, does this proposal really send out the right message that York is a place to stay?

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