Tourism boss says Devon could follow Venice in introducing 'visitor tax'

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Malcolm Bell, Chief Executive of Visit Cornwall, admits the idea of implementing a tourist tax upon visitors to the area is a concept he can 'certainly envision' in the future -Credit:No credit

Tourists visiting Devon could face a 'tourism tax' when visiting parts of the country. The boss of Visit Cornwall has come out in favour of the idea for the the neighbouring county, but says there's 'no point' in a tax for Cornwall without one in Devon.

Malcolm Bell, who heads up the tourism board said he can "certainly envision" a future where visitors contribute a little extra, but he's adamant that Cornwall shouldn't be alone in this endeavour, He has suggested Devon, another tourist favourite, should follow suit.

Bell is keen on the idea but cautions against hasty implementation, emphasising the need for careful planning to ensure the additional funds are well-spent and the tourism sector remains unharmed. "We have observed how fast decisions are often very poor decisions," Malcolm remarked. He advocates for a thoughtful approach: "It is a time to have the debate, not rush into action, engage with people and look at the art of the possible."

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He further commented on the practicalities of such a tax, saying, "We must make sure it is not burdened with administrative costs and helps to manage the situation we are facing and improve it."

Malcolm, a key figure in the discussion, has emphasised the need for careful consideration of the decision, involving businesses and other partners. He disclosed that talks are already taking place with the Cornwall community foundation and National landscapes, south west coastal paths, reports Cornwall Live.

"But even if we end up avoiding the tourism tax, we should look at the rationale about why people are calling for one," he added. He also pointed out that the UK is already one of the highest-taxed visitor economies in Europe, second only to France. He questioned the practicality of a Cornwall-specific tourist tax, stating: "There is no point in Devon not having one and us having one."

Furthermore, Malcolm highlighted that a significant portion of visitor spending already goes into taxes: "Something to consider is there is already a tourist tax as over 30 percent of visitors spend goes into tax. We're the second highest tax visitor economy in Europe: in France you pay 5.5 percent, whereas here we pay 20 percent," he added.

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He made a case for reallocating funds, stating: "The normal argument would be we need some distribution of the money that already goes to the majesty's treasury to instead go back into local levels."

While recognising the current fiscal challenges, he remarked: "Given the national finances, we see the need to pay more into defense, the NHS, social services, we have to be realistic."

Cornwall's draw as a holiday hotspot is underscored by the sheer volume of tourists it attracts, with a committee report highlighting around four million holiday visits and an estimated 12 million day visitors each year. This surge of tourists, Malcolm points out, reflects a preference for pristine local environments, which could stand to gain from a tourist tax dedicated to preserving the area's natural charm and wildlife.

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A tourism boss has backed the idea of a tax for holidaymakers coming to Cornwall - but says Devon would need one as wel -Credit:No credit

Moreover, Malcolm voiced his hope for the proposed tax income to be channelled towards environmental preservation and aiding local communities, adding: "And he added he would like to see the levy look after the environment and consider the communities. The preference would be if the levy is well developed with the community and businesses - where visitors are comfortable to pay a very small amount to help go back into Cornwall."

Malcolm highlighted the need for clarity on how tax money is utilised, suggesting that tourists would be more inclined to pay if they knew their money was positively impacting Cornwall's local communities and environment. He said: "We have 85 percent repeat business in Cornwall - holidaymakers who regularly return would want the levy to help Cornwall and its residents. If holidaymakers want to contribute, if they think it's going to the right cause, I wouldn't mind."

"That to me means yes they would be pleased to see that - if they know where it is going. People are cynical and want reassurance that their extra payment is going on something that is appropriate. But if it is just another levy added onto VAT and taxes? That is probably not what people want to see."

He also questioned whether a substantial amount collected through the levy might lead to reduced Government funding for Cornwall, as the county would be generating its own income. Malcolm, with over 45 years of experience in Cornwall and 20 years in Plymouth, shared his apprehension about the potential effects of a tourism tax: "A blunt tourism tax worries me."

"If this tourism tax raised a load of money, the Government must give us less - I hate to be a cynic, but you have to think it through carefully."

Questioning the practicality of a tourist tax, he queried: "How much of it is going to go on administration? " He warned that the money might just disappear into a "big black hole for the public sector" without benefiting local communities. He noted that both Cornwall Council and the Government appear unenthusiastic about such a tax, citing the tourist tax in Manchester introduced from April last year as unsuitable for the South West.

Malcolm Bell explained his position, stating: "We are looking in the very early stages of what Manchester has done and saying how can it apply to Cornwall businesses." He referenced the recent introduction of a tourist tax in Manchester, which since April 1, 2023, imposes a £1 charge per room per night, capped at 21 consecutive nights.

Despite Manchester's approach, Malcolm Bell observed, "Manchester have introduced a charge per night, but it is a business improvement district legislation. We have hotels, catering, holiday parks - whereas they have hotels - so their model doesn't work here."

"Perhaps it could work down here but a huge consideration should be can it give our community, its products and our environment Let's have some positive interaction and dialogue around it."

"We might conclude the tax is not right or appropriate and the cost of the implementation itself is too much. So I could conceive it, but the levy should be considered across the community, there is a lot to consider."

It comes after Venice has started a scheme to charge day-trippers a £4.30 (5 euros) entry fee which officials hope will discourage visitors from arriving on peak days and make the city more liveable for its dwindling number of residents.