Does York need a tourist tax? MAXINE GORDON takes some expert views

Tourism is central to York's economy, generating £564 million each year and supporting almost 20,000 jobs.

New hotels, aparthotels and Airbnbs continue to open and York remains a popular destination – for families but also for stag and hen parties. There is concern that the latter are contributing to the city developing an unfortunate reputation for anti-social behaviour at weekends.

A tourist tax appeared in York Green Party's election manifesto in 2015, and the idea has now won widespread support among the city’s Labour and Lib Dem councillors.

Since the government would need to back such a move, initially, any tourism levy for York would be voluntary.

The suggestion is to charge tourists £1 a night, which would be added to their hotel bill.

The money raised would go towards tackling anti-social behaviour and cleaning up in the city centre.

Other tourism hot spots in the UK such as Edinburgh and Bath are considering a tourist tax too.

So, will it become a reality in York – and should it? Here are some answers...


York Green Party and deputy leader of City of York Council

Around the world it seems commonplace for hotels to collect a local tax from visitors, to support the additional costs of hosting tourist visitors. It's just a line on your bill that helps to fund local services. In the UK, cities such as Edinburgh and Oxford are very keen to introduce a tourist tax. York should not miss out and should make a case for the government to grant us powers to collect such a small levy.

Make It York aims for a £1 billion tourism industry by 2025, but I would urge caution in how it seeks to achieve that.

Sheer growth of numbers could overwhelm our small city and create the sort of backlash being seen in Venice and Barcelona.

Seeking high-value tourism rather the stag and hen 'do' visitors requires investment in quality (which brings us back to the tourist tax argument). Quality attractions, facilities and a cleaner environment benefit us as citizens as well.

York really must continue to pursue designation as a World Heritage Site and plan for a quality environment for our world-class cultural heritage.

That said, most of us would probably agree that York does not need ‘rebranding’ so much as increasing awareness of what unique attractions we have to offer.

A balanced economy has to be the aim for York, but tourism will undoubtedly remain a major feature.

Planning for new hotels and where they should be sited needs to sit alongside planning affordable housing. Attractive sustainable architecture must be a central feature too, and we need to get our Local Plan adopted as quickly as possible.

Controlling the amount of buy-to-let properties and Airbnbs is a challenge we must address to ensure new housing developments are actually focused on meeting local housing needs.

In five years' time, I would hope that tourism will focus more on our heritage and cultural offer through performances, walking and cycling tours and spending time getting to know the personal stories that underpin our history.


Managing director of Make It York

York welcomes 6.9 million visitors from across the world each year who come to enjoy everything that makes the city special.

With this success, are there some issues we need to address? Absolutely. Crucial to the city’s economic prosperity, tourism generates £564 million into the local economy and supports 19,000 jobs. We must ensure the city ambience and environment is enjoyable for all and do everything we can to ensure the perceived issue around anti-social behaviour is tackled and not tolerated.

We do not actively promote the city as a destination to single-sex groups and our strategy continues to be targeting visitors who come to enjoy the wide variety of festivals, events and exhibitions, as well as the city’s unique cultural and heritage offer.

However, we do understand there is more work to do and we will continue to work with our partners to tackle these issues.

Long term, our plan focuses on a strategy of not growing the number of visitors but the value, reaching £1 billion by 2025 and to do that we must tempt more visitors to stay and stay longer.

To do this we need to ensure available bedstock across all accommodation providers and we will continue to monitor occupancy to ensure that both existing and indeed new providers are getting the business they need to succeed.

We also need to ensure that our message continues to promote all the activities on offer both within the city and beyond which will help in extending the stay of the audiences we are looking to tempt.

It is vitally important that York can compete on a level playing field with other cities across Britain and Europe. We do have serious concerns around a tourism tax, as we wish for the city to be as welcoming as possible. We remain committed to contributing to the debate on this issue and representing the views of the sector but we currently don’t believe now is a good time to do this, in particular with all of the uncertainty around Brexit.


Chief executive of York Museums Trust

York is a welcoming, friendly and enjoyable place to visit and live. If a tourism tax might help ensure that quality of life in York by counteracting the impact on the city of large number of visitors, I think it is worth investigating.

As a charity which is a significant part of York’s cultural offer, we have a part to play in this by continuing to create innovative exhibitions and events which attract visitors who want to engage with York’s unique history and culture. Our very survival is dependent on this and we work hard every day on creating and promoting York as a family-friendly, inclusive destination for both residents and visitors.

It works – last year the Yorkshire Museum saw a record number of visitors because of the new Yorkshire’s Jurassic World exhibition. More than 163,000 people came to see our nationally-significant collections, combined with the latest technology, to bring them to life in new and exciting ways.

Our most recent exhibition at York Art Gallery, Ruskin, Turner & The Storm Cloud, has also proved the most popular since the development of the galley in 2015.

Each year, nearly half a million people visit and enjoy York Museums Trust sites and a further 1.6 million people enjoy York Museum Gardens.

Our major plans for York Castle Museum, as part of the new Castle Gateway, are beginning to take shape after consultation with different local communities and our ambition is for the whole area to become a nationally-significant destination that will appeal to residents as much as tourists.

We do not want to reduce the number of tourists coming to the city, we want to attract more of those visitors who want to engage and enjoy the contemporary culture and ancient roots which make the city unique.


York guest house owner

My husband and I run two guest houses in York – the Staymor in Southlands Road and Minster Walk on Marygate.

The tourist tax would cost us money because we would have to pay to administer it.

The smaller guest houses get the rum end of the deal. We have all the taxes and rates to pay whereas those get swallowed up in the larger establishments. In quieter times we can be making only £5 profit on a room. Margins are tight and everything is so price-sensitive, especially when there are more Airbnbs.

York has come so far and we have wonderful markets, cafes, restaurants and festivals. There are so many things to do that attract families and visitors to the city. But there is a huge clash between tourists who stay at the traditional guest houses and the stag and hen parties. Those used to be contained a lot, but now we have more budget hotels and York is becoming known as a cheap destination.

That is bad news in the long run if we are trying to appeal to families and international visitors.

At the moment, York is getting a negative reputation for visiting at the weekend and evening. Mumsnet had a thread saying that York was a no go for families and that is bad.

What needs to be done? You are not supposed to serve anyone who is already drunk. So there needs to be back-up for licensees in public houses on how to manage that.

If they are thinking about introducing a tourist tax perhaps it should be for groups?

As for Airbnbs – there are so many and it seems as if everything is turning into an Airbnb, including lots of flats in Bishopthorpe Road and Marygate. As a business, they don’t have to conform to the same rules and regulations as a guest house or hotel which means they can be cheaper.

Because we are a small city, there is a risk of us running into the same issues facing Barcelona and Paris where whole swathes of the city have been taken up by Airbnbs and there is nowhere for people to live.