Hoteliers counting on the Lights season to turn trade around after a “really tough year” are warning a ‘tourism tax’ would spell further disaster for business.
The idea for the levy on overnight accommodation for tourists, which was suggested by a Labour front bencher, has been profoundly rejected by Blackpool tourism bosses.
It comes as many hoteliers admit that while the glorious Bank Holiday weather saw day-trippers flock to the resort, they have had a tough summer season and are eagerly awaiting the Illuminations to help boost over-night stays.
Clare Smith, chairman of Stay Blackpool, said: “It’s been a really tough year. I don’t think properties like us would survive without the Lights.”
The tourism tax idea was mooted by Labour MP Sadiq Khan, when he suggested London should have a “tourism contribution” tax similar to cities like Venice, in Italy.
Blackpool South Labour MP Gordon Marsden says the tax idea is not party policy – but it has already ‘turned the stomachs’ of local hoteliers.
Pat Francioni, owner of Elmhurst Hotel on Charnley Road, Blackpool, said: “We’re fighting to get VAT reduced never mind ideas of a tourism tax too. It made my stomach turn.”
Mrs Smith, who owns Number One South Beach and Number One St Luke’s, in Blackpool, said such a tax on hoteliers would be “horrendous”.
She said: “It is really tough trading in these times, with VAT at 20 per cent.
“The bulk of most people’s business these days comes from online and they charge phenomenal commissions, before guests arrive you’re talking 40 per cent on VAT and commissions, a bed tax on top is just ludicrous.”
Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard, a Conservative, said: “I’m concerned about Labour’s plans to hammer hard-working people with a holiday tax.
“This will push up the cost of living and destroy jobs in coastal towns and popular tourist destinations across the country.”
But Mr Marsden, Labour MP for Blackpool South, said: “There hasn’t been any Labour party proposal for a country-wide tourism tax.
“[Sadiq Khan’s] comments were made in very specific comments about London.”
The Gazette last year launched a ‘Slash the VAT’ campaign, to reduce the rate of VAT for the tourism industry.
In the UK VAT on tourism is at 20 per cent while it is as low as six per cent in Germany.
Mr Marsden added: “A number of MPs, including myself, have asked the government to look favourably on lowering VAT for tourism.”
Coun Graham Cain, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for tourism, said: “We need to make some form of commitment to reducing VAT on tourism so we can compete with other European countries.”
He said he had received “positive” feedback about the summer season but admitted there remained challenges.
He said: “In this economic climate people are just not staying over, our challenge is how do we get people to stay over.
“Numbers are up but people staying has reduced. But people are returning.”
Mrs Francioni, a director of Stay Blackpool, said: “I loathe and detest talking Blackpool down but this has been the worst season we’ve ever had in 42 years.”
Many are now looking forward to the Illuminations to boost business.
Mrs Francioni said: “We’re hoping a few last minute people will come along.”
David Walker, New Trentwood Hotel general manager, on Dickson Road, said: “We do get a lot of business for the Illuminations, we are exceptionally busy for that which is good.”
But other guesthouses have said they see less of an impact from the Illuminations.
Chris Moorhouse, owner of The Avon Hotel on Albert Road, said: “Our season’s been fine.
“We haven’t noticed an awful lot of difference in terms of the Illuminations over the years, we’re full anyway just for people coming to enjoy Blackpool.”