Everyone who overnights in Wales, whether it be in a luxury hotel, a cosy holiday cottage or the most basic campsite, may face a “visitor levy” under a hugely controversial Welsh government scheme.
The Labour-led government has launched a consultation on the proposal that could result in almost all visitors – including Welsh residents staying away from home – being taxed for their stays.
It argues that the idea is to raise money that local authorities will be able to reinvest to improve tourist spots and engender a feeling of “shared responsibility” between residents and visitors.
The proposals have been fiercely criticised by many tourism businesses who worry a levy could make Wales seem less welcoming, especially as the consultation comes at a time of the cost of living crisis.
Suzy Davies, the chair of the Wales Tourism Alliance, branded it a “misguided and damaging bed tax”. She added: “Visitor numbers have not recovered since the pandemic. The Welsh government has not gone for higher parking charges for day visitors or entry fees to vulnerable landscapes: it has gone for the staying guest.”
The government says dozens of places around the world charge a levy, but Davies said: “Wales is not like destinations which already charge a tourism tax. They enjoy other targeted tax cuts for tourism and hospitality, which mitigate the effect on their businesses. Also, unlike many other countries, the current plans will see any tax take disappear into local authority coffers without any guarantee of additional local spend.”
Rowland Rees-Evans, the director of a holiday park near Aberystwyth, said he could understand why places such as Venice might introduce taxes as a way of capping visitor numbers. “But we want to expand and grow. The industry is very wary and worried.”
The Conservatives in Wales labelled it a “tourism tax” and estimated it could cost families an extra £75 for a six-night stay and put jobs at risk.
Introducing a visitor levy is a programme for government commitment, the work being carried out with Plaid Cymru as part of a cooperation agreement between the two parties.
Each local authority in Wales would have the power to decide if they want to introduce the levy, and the government said the money raised would be reinvested to support local tourism – for example, keeping beaches clean or improving footpaths.
Rebecca Evans, the Welsh minister for finance and local government, said: “Our intention is to bring about a sense of shared responsibility between residents and visitors. By asking visitors – whether they have travelled from within Wales or from further afield – to make a small contribution towards maintaining and enhancing the place they are visiting, we will encourage a more sustainable approach for tourism.”
The minister said Wales was not aiming to bring in a fee as a way of limiting visitor numbers, as Venice does, but to encourage more people in by making places more attractive – the model she said Mallorca follows.
It has not been decided if a charge will be made per visitor, per room or as a percentage of the overall cost of the stay – and whether young people will be charged. The size of the levy is one of the issues that will be consulted on but it is thought that it may be set at a few pounds.
There would be exceptions – for example, hostels for homeless people, victims of domestic violence, accommodation for refugees and people living on Gypsy and Traveller sites.
The government said it could take years before a levy was introduced but Evans said Wales could become the first UK nation to introduce such a scheme. “I don’t think we’ll be the last,” she added.
Cefin Campbell, a Plaid Cymru Senedd member, said: “At the moment the burden of providing services an infrastructure falls mainly on local taxpayers. We think as a matter of principle that burden should be widened to include those who come as visitors.”