More than 60 destinations worldwide now have tourist taxes

In April 2024, Venice began its controversial experiment of charging day trippers €5 (£4.30) to visit the city on some of the busiest days of the year. But it’s not just the lagoon city, with its 30 million visitors a year, that is interested in trying out new tourist taxes.

In Great Britain, a council in the county of Kent has recommended introducing a tourist tax on overnight stays in the county. In Scotland, it seems likely that visitors to Edinburgh will have to pay a fee by 2026, and the Welsh government plans to introduce similar legislation later this year.

Such taxes may seem new to Britain, but there are more than 60 destinations around the world where these types of taxes are already in place. These range from a nationwide tax in Iceland to various cities in the US. Some have been around for a long time (France was the first in 1910), but most have been introduced in the last decade.

Before the pandemic really hit (and tourism was suspended), 2020 was dubbed by one newspaper as the “year of the tourist tax,” as Amsterdam joined a growing list of destinations including Paris, Malta and Cancun. charge visitors for their visit.

The introduction of these tourist taxes has often been controversial, with industry bodies expressing concerns about the potential impact on the tourism industry.

And it appears that the link between such charges and visitor numbers is not straightforward, as different studies come to different conclusions. For example, some have suggested that tourist taxes have hampered international tourism in the Balearic Islands and Maldives, and that they may deter people from participating in domestic tourism.

Yet visitor numbers in Barcelona, ​​one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world with a levy, have continued to rise: from 7.1 million hotel guests in 2013 to 9.5 million in 2019.

In fact, the relationship between a visitor tax and tourist flow is so complex that no clear picture exists, even within the same country. Italy is one of the most studied countries, and there too the results are inconsistent.

Another study, which looked at three neighboring Italian coastal towns, found that in only one destination did the visitor charge reduce tourist flows. And a study of the Italian cities of Rome, Florence and Padua shows that these cities have not experienced any negative effects on either domestic or international demand.

The impact of tourist taxes on visitor numbers is therefore not decisive.

But what about other effects, such as the potential benefits of spending the income generated? As part of an ongoing research project, we looked at seven different destinations where tourist taxes are charged to see how the money raised is then spent.

In most places, tourist tax revenues were used to fund marketing and branding – so invested directly in promoting more tourism. The revenues were also often used to fund tourism infrastructure, from public restrooms and walking or biking trails to a multi-billion dollar convention center in Orange County, Florida.

In the Balearic Islands, revenues typically go to projects that mitigate the negative impacts of tourism on the islands’ environment, culture and society. These include waste management, the conservation of natural habitats and historical monuments, and social housing.

But overall, tourist taxes have been successfully implemented in the destinations we looked at, and there is little evidence of them deterring tourists from visiting.

Research also shows that when tourists are told what the charge is used for – and when it is directly related to improving their experience or promoting sustainable tourism – tourists are willing to accept and pay the charge.

Days people

For many tourist destinations, the biggest problem is not overnight tourists, but rather day visitors who use local resources and make little financial contribution. For these reasons, taxes can also be used to discourage day visits and encourage longer stays instead.

Venice is at the forefront of this shift. And in April 2024, after long discussions between the local government, residents and entrepreneurs, Venice started a trial with a day tourist tax (a so-called “access fee”).

Back in Kent, such radical plans may take longer to materialise. Unlike Scotland and Wales, there are currently no national plans to introduce tourist tax in England.

This could be seen as short-sighted given the great need for many destinations in England to improve the local infrastructure that tourists rely on, including clean bathing water and public transport. In Manchester and Liverpool, businesses have introduced voluntary nightly charges for visitors, in the absence of a legal basis for introducing mandatory charges.

Many other English towns and cities are likely to follow suit. Tourist tax is something we may all need to consider in our future travel plans, wherever we go.

Republished under a Creative Commons license from The Conversation.

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