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Thumbs down to tourist tax in Stratford

The Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations.
The Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations.

A TOURISM tax in Stratford-upon-Avon would raise funds for the town but it might also drive visitors away because of its unpopularity.

While other key tourist destinations like Edinburgh and Bath are considering imposing a small levy on a visitor’s stay of about £1 or £2 per night for accommodation there is no suggestion that Stratford will follow suit.

April sees the start of the tourist season proper in Stratford with the Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations and various festivals throughout the spring and summer but judging by the reaction of key stakeholders in the tourist industry it looks unlikely that Stratford would even entertain the idea of a tax on tourism.

Stratford’s visitor credentials are known the world over and tourism boosts the local economy in several different ways, pubs, restaurants, theatres, historic properties and retail but the imposition of a tax might put people off coming to Stratford all together, as Helen Peters, chief executive of Shakespeare’s England explains.

“This is something that has been discussed in various areas of the industry and like all things there are pros and cons. The pros are it could bring in revenues that could help support the tourism offer and feed into major infrastructure projects, that come as a result of the needs of the visitor economy, but only if this tax is heavily ring fenced and correctly redirected to these bodies and projects.

The UK historically has always been seen as an expensive destination. We are currently doing better on this front as a result of the weak pound which is partly due to Brexit, however this is unlikely to continue indefinitely and with UK Tourism already paying far higher taxes like vat than in other parts of the world any additional tax on tourists could be counter-productive.”

Tourist tax is levied in Europe. For example, Spain and Greece operate a tourist tax but the overall VAT in these countries is around five per cent as opposed to 20 per cent in Britain, so the tourist tax helps make up a shortfall.

Any additional tax in the UK would not be welcomed as James Smith owner of Twelfth Night Guesthouse in Evesham Place voiced his concerns.

“Tourist tax is essentially a hidden tax that would not be quoted on hotel websites. No hotel or B&B is going to absorb this tax – it will get passed onto the consumer and it will not go down well. Many hotels are already charging a VAT rate of 20 per cent on top of standard price. The timing of any such proposal is poor as Brexit has so far hurt business by creating uncertainty when it actually is finalised tourism could face a backlash in that EU members choose other destinations than Britain because they do not want to face delays at immigration. I believe the best approach to encouraging footfall in Stratford are the events put on within it. This does not require tax to generate revenue, it requires inventive occasions – such as the Xmas markets, classic car weekends which are self-financing as they bring in large numbers to the town and everyone including the council benefit financially. Some events have been tried and discarded but in the summer months it is a fact that events mean tourism.”

John Hogg of Stratford Town Walk is another person opposed to a tax in town.

“In theory we do not like the idea of a tourism tax. We want to encourage people to come and see our historical town, pleased that they are doing so and not penalise them for the privilege. Any money raised would need to be ring fenced and spent only on clearly identified tourism projects.”

David Weston, chairman of the Bed and Breakfast Association told the Herald.

“At the moment there is no joined up thinking about tourist tax in Britain and in principle we are against it but one of the reasons it’s now being raised is because local government has had its income severely cut by central government so it’s a way of raising more money,” he said.

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