'Toxic' Welsh tourist tax survives axe as country battles 'over-tourism'

Sunshine and blue skies on a beautiful summer's day at Traeth Trearddur Bay, Anglesey
-Credit: (Image: Alan Meakin)

Efforts to derail Wales’ proposed tourist tax have ended in predictable failure. While critics in the Senedd argued it will deter overnight visitors, and pile more pressure on a struggling tourism sector, supporters believe a bed levy will help make the industry more sustainable in the long-run.

The tax will be on overnight stays in Wales - in hotels, holiday lets and caravans – and will also apply to Welsh people holidaying in the country. Legislation will be introduced into the Senedd by the end of 2024, with a decision expected in 2025. Roll-out is not expected before 2027 and it will be up to local authorities to decide whether to implement it in their areas. The nightly rate has yet to be set.

A Welsh Conservatives motion in the Senedd (Welsh Parliament) called for the "toxic" idea to be scrapped, claiming it will “make people think twice about holidaying in our country”. The party fears it will be the final nail for many in a sector already wilting under a raft of policies designed to curb over-tourism and return properties to the local housing market.

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More than 60 destinations around the world levy tourist taxes already, and many more are in the pipeline. On April 25, a €5 (£4.26) charge to enter Venice was launched, raking in more than £1m in the first 11 days. It’s since been labelled a “total failure” in the Italian city’s battle against over-tourism, with visitor numbers appearing to be still rising.

Leading figures in the city this week called for it to be replaced by a cap on numbers. Otherwise, they warned, Venice will continue to be emptied of Venetians and “it is a mathematical certainty that the city will die”.

Welsh Tories say that, while Wales has a magnificent tourism offer, it lacks the predictable climates of places like Venice and Barcelona, and so is less able to cope with a visitor levy. But Plaid Cymru worries that the over-tourism seen in Venice has parallels back home.

Mid and West Wales MS Cefin Campbell said: “With great tourism comes great responsibility. So, we’re all too aware of the familiar scenes during the peak season, the endless queueing for a selfie on Yr Wyddfa, the inconsiderate parking along Pen-y-Pass in Eryri and Storey Arms in Bannau Brycheiniog, and the surge in population in our coastal towns to a level three, four, and often five times their usual size during the summer months.

“The truth is, tourism all too often places a huge strain on our local infrastructure: more use of public toilets, maintenance of roads and footpaths, increased litter, heavier demand on health and rescue services, and protection of our natural beauty. We want to have a balance between that tourism and the effect it has on local communities and the cost of maintaining tourism on local authorities.

"So, we need a shared responsibility between welcoming visitors and local residents who live there year in, year out, to protect, and invest in, our local communities and improve the tourism offer.” Join the North Wales Live Whatsapp community now

A Wales visitor levy, if implemented, will not apply to day trippers due to the difficulty in organising collections. Instead, overnight visitors will be targeted. Clwyd West MS Darren Millar accused the Welsh Government of penalising the “most lucrative type of tourism” by taxing visitors who spend more. “It will give them less to spend in our economy,” he added.

He also fears a tourism tax will put Wales at a competitive disadvantage to the rest of Britain. According to a survey by the Wales Tourism Alliance, 70% of visitors said they would consider holidaying elsewhere if there was a tax.

“Many people who holiday in North Wales have a choice of whether to come to Snowdonia (Eryri) or other parts of North Wales, or whether to go over to the Lake District,” he said. If there’s a price-sensitive issue – and there are for many families – then people will simply go elsewhere. That will be bad for the economy, be bad for jobs, and bad for families in Wales.”

The consequences of over-tourism have been felt most keenly in Eryri and particularly around Yr Wyddfa
Cefin Campbell, Plaid Cymru MS for Mid and West Wales

Nevertheless, visitor levies are starting to creep in across the UK. Last year Manchester became the first city to charge overnight visitors, the £1 nightly levy expected to raise around £3m per year. Edinburgh, Birmingham and London have expressed interest in following suit.

Scotland is considering a banded charging system for its incoming visitor’s levy. Lobbying is underway for a tourist tax in Cornwall and there have been early discussions on similar moves in places like Kent and the Lake District. There's a guide to Wales's planned tourism tax and its implications here.

Lower occupancy threshold rejected

Even if the tourist tax playing field is levelled, the Welsh visitor economy feels it is being harshly targeted by government policy. The Welsh Tories outlined a succession of measures – some implemented already, some in the pipeline – that are weighing down the sector. These include:

  • 182-day occupancy threshold

  • Registration scheme for holiday lets

  • Tourist tax/Visitor levy

  • Possible licensing of holiday lets

  • Pop-up campsite curbs (28 days in Wales, 60 days in England)

  • Reduced non-domestic rates support

  • Highest business rates in the UK

  • Additional waste charges.

In April 2023, occupancy rates for holiday lets were doubled to 182 days per year. Failure to meet the threshold means operators are liable to council taxes, which are becoming increasingly punitive in honeypot counties. The industry claims that, apart from places like Cardiff, it is difficult to reach the threshold and in the Senedd yesterday (Wednesday, May 22), the Welsh Conservatives unsuccessfully pushed for the annual occupancy target to be lowered to 105 days.

“Many self-catering businesses are considering closing,” Monmouth MS Peter Fox told the debate. “I’ve had two or three letters to this effect – due to the 182-day occupancy threshold, an unrealistic expectation for many businesses.

“Sadly, the Welsh Government’s current policy agenda will lead to a downward spiral of tourism venues. And let’s be clear, these policies will not enable many vacant catering venues to find their way back into local residency if no longer viable for tourism.

“According to the Professional Association of Self Caterers, businesses estimate that only 5% of businesses consider a local resident as a most likely buyer of their property. In fact, 39% of businesses think that the most likely buyers of their property would be a second-home owner, and 37% think it would be acquired by another holiday-let operator.”

Filming scenes for the second series of House of the Dragon at Llanddwyn beach, Newborough, Anglesey. The Welsh Conservatives believe film locations offer a low-cost way of improving the country's tourism profile
The consequences of over-tourism have been felt most keenly in Eryri and particularly around Yr Wyddfa -Credit:Chris Fawcett

Pushing Welsh tourism

To boost the sector, the Welsh Tories want to see visitor passes introduced that give access to a range of attractions. They’ve also called for a tourism and hospitality academy to upskill the two sectors.

Another aim is for Wales to proactively capitalise on major events. South Wales East MS Laura Anne Jones cited the example of Clash at the Castle, a WWE major event that attracted over 62,000 people to Cardiff and pulled in more than £2 million to the Welsh economy.

Ms Jones accepted more large-scale major events need to be promoted across Wales and not just in the south. “The way to do this, perhaps, could be achieved by the Wales football team playing matches at Wrexham's Racecourse ground,” she suggested. Sign up for the North Wales Live newsletter sent twice daily to your inbox

Plaid’s South Wales Central MS Heledd Fychan believes the idea should be extended to Welsh cultural events such as the Urdd and National Eisteddfodau. Festivals such Gŵyl Fach y Fro on Barry Island also had potential to lure international visitors, she said, adding: “There is a trend, unfortunately, to focus on the Hay Festival rather than the Welsh festivals.”

Another low-cost ambition pushed by the Tories is to increase the lure of Wales to film and TV companies. Sites like

Ynys Llanddwyn

, Benllech and Llanbadrig church, Anglesey, have been used as filming locations already and, long-term, this is likely to attract more visitors and bring “cultural benefits”, said Laura Anne Jones.

Welcoming the debate, if not the outcome, was Suzy Davies, chair of Wales Tourism Alliance. She said: “The slew of policies damaging jobs and income, without any evidence of benefit elsewhere, points to the need to amend them or scrap them altogether. A review is now overdue.”

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