A TOURISM tax is needed to prevent visitors being put off travelling to the Highlands because they "have to go to the toilet behind a bush", it has been claimed.

Highland Council convener Bill Lobban insisted infrastructure is crumbling amid a tourism boom – risking “reputational” damage to an area where many depend on it.

He said: "Our infrastructure is deteriorating and it will lead to a negative impression, and that will cause reputational damage.”

He said there is more tourism traffic on some roads than there are residents, and argued a dependable long-term funding solution is needed "otherwise we run the risk that visitors just won't come back".

He said: "Personally speaking, I don't actually accept the argument that visitors will be deterred from visiting the Highlands if we charge them a £1 a night bed levy.

"In the Highlands we have some of the best food in the world, the best accommodation and the most magnificent scenery, but all that can come to nothing if a tourist pulls a wheel off his car or has to go to the toilet behind a bush."

Mr Lobban was addressing MSPs on Holyrood’s tourism committee, where he said six million visitors bring £1.2 billion a year into the Highlands and support 20,000 jobs, but put pressure on roads, parking and public toilets.

Highland Council wants to introduce a tourism tax – or transient visitor levy – to help fund infrastructure.

Edinburgh is also calling for the measure, which SNP city leader Adam McVey argues could generate about £11 million annually.

However councils are unable to introduce such a tax without Scottish ministers handing over the necessary powers.

The minority SNP Government has so far resisted this. But with Labour and the Scottish Greens both supporting a tourism levy, it is thought the issue will become a bargaining chip in any future budget.

Scottish Tory MSP Jamie Greene highlighted a survey showing most businesses are against a new tax, while pointing out that SNP Tourism Secretary Fiona Hyslop previously rejected the move.

He asked: "If the industry isn't in favour of it, if small businesses that it will affect aren't in favour of it and it sounds that even the government itself aren't supportive, do you feel like you are fighting a losing battle on this?"

Mr McVey said the reaction from business has been mixed and large firms such as Airbnb and Virgin back the plans.

Councillor Gail Macgregor, from local authority umbrella body Cosla, denied fighting a losing battle on the tax, claimed engagement with industry would continue and warned against "kneejerk" reactions on both sides.

Scottish Labour's communities spokeswoman Monica Lennon said her party would hand councils the necessary powers.

She said: “SNP Ministers are even ignoring the calls of council leaders from their own party and I’d urge the Scottish Government to stop undermining local democracy and at the very least allow the tourist tax to be piloted in Edinburgh.