Lake District tourism bodies and hoteliers have hit back at plans by local MP Tim Farron to consult on a tourist tax.
The South Lakes Lib Dem MP said he wants to hear from local people about their views “on the idea of a tourist tax to raise funds for local infrastructure”.
He said the idea was mentioned “several times” during his recent summer tour, and he is “keen to start a conversation with local residents, councils and the tourism industry to find out what people think and whether the idea has any merit”.
He added: “Heavy government cuts mean local authorities have less and less money and so we need to explore more avenues to raise money to cope with an increasing number of people visiting the Lake District.
“However, tourism plays such a vital role for our economy so any new scheme that is brought in must not be so drastic that it puts people off visiting our beautiful part of the world.”
Nigel Wilkinson, managing director of Windermere Lakes Cruises, highlighted the massive benefits that tourism already brought to the area.
“Within the Lake District National Park, tourism forms the mainstay of the local economy, with tourism businesses providing jobs, both directly and indirectly, supporting the local supply chain and contributing to both national and local government through taxation, rates and rental payments,” he said.
“Before considering solutions, such as a tourism tax, a comprehensive analysis of the contribution that the visitor economy currently makes should be undertaken and that benefit considered against the costs. Without such an evidence base there cannot be an informed discussion about a tourist tax.”
The plan was also criticised by South Lakes Hotels’ owner Jonathan Denby, and Joe Cobb, chairman of the Lake District Hotel Association and executive commercial manager for Lake District Country Hotels.
Denby told the local paper The Mail that business rates were putting many firms out of business, adding: “The last thing hospitality businesses need is a bigger tax burden.”
Cobb told the paper a tourism levy would be a stealth tax, and other countries had much lower sales taxes than the 20% VAT rate levied in the UK.
Gill Haigh, managing director of Cumbria Tourism, told The Mail: “It’s critically important that we recognise the significant contributions the tourism sector already makes to the county’s economy, the contribution it makes to the quality of the county as a place to live and to understand the impact such a levy might have on visitor behaviour, especially when competing with destinations which do not impose such a system.”