Will Bath be the first UK city to introduce a tourist tax?

Author
Ian Bell
Executive Director of Bath Chamber of Commerce and Initiative
13th January 2017

Talking about a bed tax for Bath is nothing new. The Council have looked at this for years but it has never come to pass because they don't have the legal power to impose a levy. They considered a voluntary charge some time back but that didn't get anywhere. There were also suggestions that “honesty boxes” could be left in hotel reception areas but that was thought impractical and would cost almost as much to collect as the money raised.

Having said that, we are used, when travelling abroad, to be charged additional nightly levies and a pound a night doesn't seem a lot in the grand scheme of things. It’s also true that it would raise some useful revenue for a Council that is staring down the barrel of some difficult financial questions.

On the other hand, tourism is a vital part of the local economy and Bath surely wouldn’t want to be forever known as the first place in the country to impose a bed tax. It’s one of those issues where the revenue benefits could be outweighed by the public relations costs. You could imagine the stories for years to start, “Bath, the first city in the country to impose a bed tax ….” It doesn’t read well does it?

So I don't think this is going to happen anytime soon. In some ways it looks as though the Council are sending out a signal to say they are leaving no stone unturned in their search for fresh income to help their cash shortfall, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

However, looking into my crystal ball, I do think I can see a bed tax somewhere in the future. One of two things would have to change to make it happen.

First national Government could alter the rules and give local authorities the right to impose a levy on tourists if they wish to. You can see the attraction for Whitehall. It would save them some money and the local councils would get the blame.

The second way it might happen is if the Metro Mayor, to be elected in May, was given the power to approve a levy. Again Government’s hands would be clean and it would be the responsibility of the Mayor and the Leaders of Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol and South Gloucestershire and no doubt the rows would reverberate all over the area with competing voices arguing they should benefit from the money.

I suspect it will die a death because it would be more trouble than it was worth!

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