Give tourism a VAT break – now

A tram arriving at North Pier

A tram arriving at North Pier

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THE Gazette today calls on the Government to help boost Blackpool’s embattled tourism industry by slashing VAT – before “it’s too late”. a VAT break – now

Deafening calls are now being made to Westminster for the UK to follow the lead of our European counterparts by slashing Value Added Tax on hotel accommodation and entry to attractions.

VAT in Britain is currently pegged at a whopping 20 per cent – something which hoteliers and attraction owners say is costing local businesses thousands of pounds a year and is preventing the creation of hundreds of jobs locally.

The UK’s VAT rate – the second highest in Europe behind Denmark – is in stark contrast to France, Italy and Germany where tax on hotel accommodation is as low as six per cent.

Guy Parsons, boss of hotel chain Travelodge says cutting tourism-related VAT could help create 1,000 jobs in Blackpool alone.

CLICK HERE TO SIGN THE PETITION AND READ THE LATEST STORIES.He told The Gazette: “The British tourism industry is being held back by regulation, tax and successive governments who do not give us the assistance our continental competitors receive.

“Across Europe governments have slashed VAT for the tourism and leisure sectors and that places us at a competitive disadvantage. Is it any wonder that France and Germany are attracting far more tourists than we are?

“The tourism industry is uniquely placed to quickly create jobs that in turn lead into rewarding careers.

“To do this we need a level playing field with our competitors and a VAT cut to five per cent would be a good first step.”

A comparison of VAT rates in some of the top competing tourist destinations – France, Spain, Italy, the US and Australia – shows that on average, visitors to the UK will pay about 10 per cent more on accommodation and restaurants.

Admission to amusement parks is also a massive issue with France and EuroDisney’s rate just seven per cent.

David Cam, Company Secretary of Blackpool Pleasure Beach, supported the cut and said: “Our tourism industry is at a great disadvantage compared to almost all our European colleagues.

“If the principle did not work all European states would have reversed their policy by now.

“Meanwhile our tourism industry offers enormous potential for creation of thousands of desperately needed jobs in the UK, a fact which this Government continues to ignore.”

Garry Blackadder, General Manager at Merlin which runs The Tower and Madame Tussauds, said: “We shouldn’t be charging VAT on people’s leisure time while they are having fun.

“At Merlin we show our prices with and without VAT as we believe we should not charge VAT at all as our attractions in other countries charge little or no VAT.

“We show our non-VAT price as the price we want to charge then we show the price with VAT to show our customers the huge difference charging VAT makes.”

Steve Pye, of the Blackpool-based Federation of Small Businesses, said: “This cut needs to be done for Blackpool now – before it’s too late. Our VAT rate is making us uncompetitive abroad and is putting people out of business.”

The UK is ranked 135th out of 139 countries in the world by the World Economic Forum which measures tourism price competitiveness.

Natalie Wyatt, managing director of Marketing Blackpool, said: “Marketing Blackpool is extremely supportive of a reduction in VAT and has taken an opportunity at a recent meeting with the minister for Tourism, John Penrose MP, to try to influence this agenda.

“It is the belief of Marketing Blackpool such a reduction will help the resort to both grow and develop which in turn will increase visitors numbers to Blackpool and ultimately encourage a value for money experience.”

Howard Lewis, chairman of the Blackpool Business Leadership Group, said: “Blackpool could be used as a ‘tourism zone’ similar to ‘enterprise zones’ as a trial area for such a cut.

“It would help persuade people holidaying abroad, who perhaps have tight pockets, to holiday here, and it would also help people invest more in tourism. So it would stimulate more consumers and it would help investment at the same time. A VAT cut would help create thousands of jobs across the country.”

Claire Smith, president of hoteliers association StayBlackpool, added: “A cut to VAT would support staycationers and increase inbound tourism. It’s a no brainer and would provide a national boost.”

Research in France, where VAT on tourism businesses was cut in July 2009 from 19.6 per cent to six per cent, showed the a boost in the tourism and leisure sector and cut VAT fraud by 74 per cent.

Fylde coast MPs have given cross-party support to the cut, with Blackpool North Tory Paul Maynard backing a cut to five per cent earlier this week.

CLICK HERE TO SIGN THE PETITION AND READ THE LATEST STORIES.Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden, who is President of the British Resorts and Destinations Association, added: “It’s very important for Blackpool that quality small hotels and businesses are supported and renewed

“Looking at VAT would help them in particular. That is something the Government should be doing now.”

The Gazette put the views to Tourism Minister John Penrose.

And he said: “Everyone in Government appreciates how hard it is for businesses in the present economic climate, and we are determined to do everything we can to help.

“The truth, though, is that our room for manoeuvre is highly constrained – there simply isn’t the money there to do all the things that people want us to.

“For those working in the tourism sector we are slashing the pointless rules and regulations that have been hampering growth for too long, and we are currently running the biggest marketing campaign for holidaying at home that has ever taken place.

“I know that businesses in Blackpool have been hard hit, but I’m sure that if they – and Government – work together we can get through this period and lay the foundations for a solid and sustainable future.”