Taxing times

Wendy and Ada Adamson
Wendy and Ada Adamson
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Have your say

They say two things are certain in life – death and taxes.

And it’s a dead cert that many see an additional Tourism Tax as beyond the pale.

We already pay tax on just about everything on holiday – from the ice cream we eat to the attractions we visit.

Locals pay airport development tax to fly out of Blackpool Airport – the money reinvested in facilities there.

But is a tourist tax at the suggested rate of £1 a night’s stay a step too far?

The incentive for local authorities discussing the scheme is extra cash to stash in council coffers – ideally to reinvest in their resorts.

But hoteliers are a sceptical bunch in Blackpool. Some say a tourism levy – particularly in an economy tipped for triple dip with all the trimmings (more shop closures, For Sale signs, repossessions) - is misguided.

One in five Brits are said to be putting holiday plans on ice until the economy eases. Edinburgh, one of the busiest cities outside of London, has already binned the tax. Cornish councils are said to be considering it. York would rather see a cut in VAT to support the hotel trade, something proposed by The 
Gazette’s Slash the VAT campaign.

Trader John Jackson who has a souvenir shop in South Shore says: “Now is not the time to be doing anything to discourage visitors.

“They want bargains. How many of pay the extra conservation or charity tax you see when booking hotels in other countries on line?”

Just off the Prom, there’s no sign of a For Sale sign outside one traditional guesthouse but the landlady says: “I want out. It’s been on the market three years. We’ve dropped the price four times. We had one offer last year – at a third less than our asking price.”

The hotelier who does not want to be identified says: “If it wasn’t for the contractors working in Blackpool I’d have gone under.”

Blackpool Council was criticised this week for taking on contractors from outside the area – with just one local firm making it to the final list with some from Preston, Manchester, Salford and Sheffield for the £4m renovation of the resort’s social housing.

“Outside contractors are good news for hoteliers such as us,” she explains. “They look for beds in places like ours, under £15 a night. It’s a buyers’ market. Even then they try to beat us down on price.”

A neighbouring hotelier added: “Most of our guests wouldn’t pay £1 extra a week let alone a night. Every penny counts. And where would the money go? Would the council spend it on tourism or free breakfasts for kids? We would need an assurance it would be used for tourism - such as promoting the town or getting more activities in.”

Blackpool residents Wendy and Ada Adamson disagree. Ada’s daughter Wendy explains: “Tourists make the mess, they should pay for it. We have a static caravan in Ripon but I’d pay £1 tourist tax a night if it helped. But it should go for essential services. Locally, I’d like it to be used for children’s services.”

Tourism tax, long mooted, returned to the agenda this week with an influential group of MPs declaring town halls in England should be free to impose local “tourist taxes” as part of a move to legally guarantee them independence from Whitehall control.

Tourist (and other) tax raising powers are among proposals in a draft code published by the Commons political and constitutional reform committee led by Labour MP Graham Allen to “help kickstart the economy.”

Some tourists applaud the idea. Lyndene Hotel guest Gary Townend of Leeds, here for a week with his elderly parents and young grandson Kenzee, says: “Blackpool’s good value. It’s really changed for the better. It just needs more people.

“I’m here because my parents love it but we’re having a good time too. I think £1 extra a night is reasonable. It’s another revenue stream which could be put back into the tourist industry.”

Kenzee, seven, who gets £1 per chore at home, says he would spend it on helping the town.

“I like Blackpool. I’ve got £46 saved to spend. I got it for taking the cardboard out to recycle, keep my room clean and other stuff.”

Two of his top treats don’t cost a penny. “I like playing football on the beach and building sandcastles.” He also loves the arcades, Sandcastle Waterpark and the Pleasure Beach (yet to reopen for the season). Today the family will visit Blackpool Zoo, which only closes on Christmas Day. “Can’t wait,” says Kenzee.

Edinburgh sisters Elizabeth Knight, 75, and Carol Grey, 67, are spending four nights at the Royal Seabank Hotel. They say their own city debated and discarded the tourist tax.

“It shouldn’t happen here either,” says Elizabeth. “It’s a lot of extra money to find.” Carol adds: “You need to do what you can to encourage people to come back - not put them off.”

Clare Smith, president of StayBlackpool, cautions: “A tourism tax will only work if everybody does it – not just Blackpool. It needs to be a level playing field.”