Business leaders have claimed a long-touted tourist tax could exacerbate anti-social behaviour in the Highlands – forcing visitors to park up campervans and wild camp instead.

MSPs have also been warned that the visitor levy could further damage businesses following the regulation of short-term lets and put the industry in Scotland at a competitive disadvantage.

While campers and motorhomes staying on campsites would have to pay the proposed charge, those who simply park or pitch up would not.

David Weston, chairman of the Scottish Bed and Breakfast Association, told MSPs that, as it stands, the charge could “distort behaviour”.

Read more: Scottish Government publish 'tourism tax' legislation

He said the proposals could “make certain behaviours worse, like campervans, like wild camping, which are going to have extremely negative impacts on rural areas”.

His comments came as Holyrood’s Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee began their scrutiny of the Scottish Government's plans to allow councils to charge a fee on overnight visitor stays.

The new fee would be a percentage of visitors’ accommodation costs, and would apply to those staying in hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, self-catering accommodation, campsites, caravan parks and boat moorings.

The money raised would then be reinvested locally in facilities or services used by tourists.

While other European cities have introduced similar charges, Mr Weston told the MSPs that taxes for tourists in the UK are already high.

“The other countries that have tourist taxes, all their other taxes are lower than ours,” he said.

Read more: Appeal for SNP to speed up tourist tax plans for councils

“The idea that £3 or £2 or £5 won’t be noticed is not correct in that context.”

Meanwhile, Fiona Campbell, chief executive of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, claimed the proposed charge “risks the competitiveness of the Scottish tourism industry”.

She said: “It is absolutely true that lots of European markets have got levies in place but they do not have our level of VAT.

“A new levy in Scotland would be in addition to VAT, whereas in 25 of the EU countries they have a discounted VAT rate for tourism, so we are automatically being disadvantaged.”

Ms Campbell continued: “Frankly, I think this is the absolutely last thing the small accommodation and self-catering sector needs.

“We’ve just come through a pandemic, we are being massively squeezed by the cost-of-living crisis. Recovery remains precarious.

“Our international visitors are coming back but our domestic visitors are not and that is a real problem.”

If the levy comes in, she warned, “price-sensitive consumers” may choose to spend their holidays south of the border, rather than in Scotland.

Read more: Wild camping warning issued after rise in countryside abuse

“We need tourism. We are absolutely reliant as a nation n tourism and we need to be welcoming,” she said.

“We are facing a reputational damage here that could be devastating for Scotland.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The visitor levy is part of the Scottish Government’s work to support and sustain the visitor economy in Scotland.

“It is reasonable to ask visitors to make a small contribution on top of the cost of their overnight accommodation to help manage the impact of tourism in local areas.

“Revenue raised could be used by local councils, for example, to invest in campsite facilities or to increase funding to local ranger services who engage frequently with people to promote responsible access in the outdoors.”