Tourist taxes are 'xenophobic' and should be scrapped, says European travel boss

Hugh Morris
Dubrovnik is one of the cities in Europe to charge a tourist tax - getty

Tourist taxes are a “xenophobic gag reflex” to the growing popularity of a holiday hotspot and will harm a destination more than it helps, according to the head of the European Tourism Association (ETOA).

Speaking to Telegraph Travel, executive director Tom Jenkins said additional levies aimed at visitors are “a very localised form of economic self-mutilation” and hurt the people towns and cities hope to attract.

In the first review of its kind into the increasing implementation of tourist taxes across Europe, released this week, ETOA found that such charges were in place in more than 125 destinations across 26 countries, including France, Spain and Italy, the three most visited by British holidaymakers.

More and more countries around the world have introduced such fees in recent years, often stating that their motivation is to manage “overtourism” and help fund sustainable tourism. As many as six cities in the UK are considering their own taxes, including Edinburgh, whose city council has approved the proposal

But Jenkins said the taxes are “reductive” and used by councils simply to raise cash. 

Las Ramblas, Barcelona, hums with throngs Credit: istock

“I think there is a real danger with tourism taxes that they are extremely reductive for destinations,” he said. “They appeal to a xenophobic gag reflex that many populations have when viewing visitors.

“They tend to punish the very people you want to attract, almost invariably imposed as a bed tax, which means that the visitors who stay the most in the town, pay the most. They also the margins of those businesses that deal with tourists.

“The idea that this is some sort of victimless tax is totally ludicrous.”

The report by the ETOA, which represents both tour operators and travel-related businesses, highlights that the responsibility of collection of the charges normally falls on accommodation, and that the taxes “add cost and complexity to an industry that runs on tight margins”.

It also mentions unintended consequences, such as in Amsterdam where a day tax has led to “some cruise companies docking in Ijmuiden and Rotterdam to avoid paying”.

Jenkins says, while overtourism is a problem, it is only a problem in 10 per cent of destinations, 10 per cent of the time.

“The solution is making it clear when [crowding] occurs, increasing capacity and promoting alternatives,” he said. “Crowds are not necessarily a bad thing - all tourism destinations would love to have that problem.”

The ETOA called on authorities considering tourism taxes to be transparent in how the money collected is used, provide sufficient notice before introduction, and consult on any plans. 

It cites Lake Bled, Barcelona and the Balearic Islands in communicating well how the tax revenue is spent.

Venice, arguably one of the most extreme cases of overtourism in Europe, is yet to introduce the tourist tax it has long debated, with implementation now postponed from this month to January 2020.

Are you happy to pay a tourist tax when you visit a destination? How best could tourism be managed? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. 

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