Alma Economics delivers public consultation for Welsh visitor levy

26 July 2023 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read
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As Wales weighs up applying a visitor levy on tourists to the country, it has tasked Alma Economics with asking the public about the idea. Following the consultation, the firm found that the policy carries broad support, in spite of complexities around its implementation.

Amid the exodus of traditional economic drivers, such as heavy industry and food production, communities around the world have long courted tourism as a means of maintaining employment and tax revenues. However, villages, towns and cities which have turned to this means of economic have increasingly found it is a double-edged sword.

While peak season brings a rush of income, the heightened pressures placed on sanitation, infrastructure and accommodation by (often wealthier) visitors has wide-ranging implications for locals well beyond the busy months. This leaves destinations with a problem: their economies have become dependent on visitors, so they cannot afford to simply turn them away – but this also leads to social and economic costs which need addressing if the industry is to be sustainable.

Alma Economics delivers public consultation for Welsh visitor levy

Increasingly, tourist hot-spots are resorting to visitor levies in a bid to bridge this divide. Rather than seeking to outright deter overnight visitors, a levy sees municipalities ask for a small overnight contribution by visitors to reinvest in the development and maintenance of the community. Among the destinations already applying the practice is the Dutch capital of Amsterdam, while Scotland’s devolved government is currently proposing the introduction of a visitor levy.

In the west of the UK, Wales is also pushing ahead with its own visitor levy. According to a statement from the country’s devolved government, “A visitor levy is not intended to put people off visiting Wales. Instead, we propose that it would generate additional revenue for local authorities to reinvest in local communities… A visitor levy would help fund localised costs from hosting visitors and enable additional public investment in tourism related infrastructure.”

The government is aware that the idea is controversial in some circles, though. Some businesses worry that the levy could see tourists go elsewhere, while others believe its administration will cost more to implement than it brings in.

Consultation

To ensure the idea still has the support of Welsh society, the government has carried out a public consultation, with the support of Alma Economics. The London headquartered consultancy tailored its polling to specific audiences to maximise engagement and accessibility, with respondents including both individuals and organisations, such as local authorities, accommodation providers, and representative bodies. In the end, this saw it analyse over 1,200 responses, from various sources including an online survey, emails, and alternative questionnaires.

The results included a number of contradictory trends. While a 58% majority of respondents agreed that tourists should contribute towards the costs of maintaining and investing in the destinations they stay in, what the rate should be, who should set it, and who would be exempt were unclear.

A 55% chunk of respondents believed the levy should apply for at least a week, with 28% of that recommending 14 nights. But 78% said they did not think that local authorities should have discretionary powers setting the rate of a levy, and 74% suggested that it should not be the responsibility of accommodation providers to remit the levy to tax authorities. At the same time, 67% disagreed with the idea that all commercially let visitor accommodation should be in the scope of the levy – even though they felt the levy should be left as a general, nationally delivered policy.

When it came to which forms of accommodation should be exempt from the policy also posed officials with headaches. While 55% of those polled said charity premises should be exempt, only 35% said stays on Roma and traveller sites should be exempt – despite transient living being inherent to the Roma way of life. Meanwhile, only 41% of respondents believed overnight stays formedical reasons should be exempt from the levy.

Key themes

Amid all the chaos, however, Alma Economics still managed to identify key themes which the government should take forward, as it develops its levy policy. First, this included two main points on why a discretionary visitor levy in Wales would be a good idea.

Respondents said that it would be good for reinvesting in local economies, with those polled commonly advocating for revenues to be committed to sustaining and enhancing infrastructure and services utilised by visitors, like transportation networks, and destination marketing. And the study also found that this would help account for the adverse impacts of tourism. Some respondents particularly believed that the levy could be used to incentivise visitors to choose less often visited areas, thus limiting the strain on local services of areas that receive a disproportionate number of visitors. Furthermore, the levy revenues could finance the maintenance and improvement of local services and infrastructure.

On the other hand, some respondents were concerned about three key strands. The complexity of implementing the levy could pose a problem, as rates might differ between areas – making compliance more challenging. This could also place an administrative burden on local authorities – which might have to hire additional personnel or move staff to administrative jobs – interfering with other authority functions. And all this could also lead to a race to the bottom by accommodation providers, flocking to areas with lower administrative burdens – concentrating the worst consequences of tourism in a few places.

Alma Economics has been supporting this project for some time. Earlier in the development of the levy, the economic consultants also helped the government with estimating the benefits, estimating price elasticities relevant to a visitor levy.