Airbnb has warned that the Scottish Government’s plans to introduce a tourist tax could threaten the “vitality” of the industry already facing pressure over plans to license short-term lets.

The company, which is a key hosting service for short-term let accommodation, has issued a warning to SNP ministers that allowing councils to roll out a visitor levy could further harm a sector already facing increased costs.

Despite angry campaigning from the short-term lets industry, those wishing to run a business now require a licence from a local council to do so, while planning permission is also required in some circumstances.

Businesses have warned that many traders face closure due to increased costs for the regulation, which they say is unnecessary.

The Scottish Government has insisted that the licensing regime is crucial to ensure basic health and safety standards and to help curb uncontrolled spread of the industry, which has been blamed for contributing to a housing crisis in Edinburgh and parts of the Highlands.

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Humza Yousaf has pledged to push ahead with delayed plans to allow local councils to introduce a tourist tax, or visitor levy.

Under the plans, a fee as a percentage of visitors’ accommodation costs, 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.

But Airbnb, which has complied with various tourist tax schemes across the globe, and supported the initial plans for Scotland, has warned ministers that alongside the licensing regime and uncertainty as the industry continues to recover from the pandemic, that Scotland’s tourism sector could come under further pressure.

Carl Thomson, public policy manager for Airbnb, said that “tourism is vitally important to Scotland’s economy, accounting for one in every 12 jobs in Scotland and around 5% of GVA”.

He added: “Although the hospitality sector has shown promising signs of recovery from the pandemic, the Scottish Government’s own assessment acknowledges that the macroeconomic environment remains challenging, with high inflation and increasing costs for businesses.”

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Pointing to the controversial licensing regime, Mr Thomson said: “The short-term letting sector in Scotland in particular is facing a number of interventions from the Scottish Government that will impact on its vitality.

“This includes the need for operators to obtain a short-term let licence, control area planning restrictions for short-term lets in certain local authorities, and plans to give local authorities the power to substantially increase council tax for self-catering accommodation, or to change the threshold at which such properties become eligible for business rates.

“The collective impact of these policies is likely to be significant, with Edinburgh City Council stating that it expects to see an 80% reduction in short-term let accommodation compared to 2021, as a result of the new licensing regulations.”

Airbnb has pointed to a study it commissioned in 2022 that warned the licensing legislation could cost the Scottish economy £133 million and put more than 7,000 jobs at risk.

Mr Thomson has called on Holyrood’s Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee, which is scrutinising the tourist tax plans, to “consider the potential impact of the visitor levy bill alongside the other legislative and regulatory interventions being taken forward by the Scottish Government”, and called on MPSs to ensure they have “a fair understanding of the wider health and stability of the Scottish hospitality sector”.

Mr Thomson has stressed that it is “crucially important” that the tourist tax “should be the same across local authorities”.

But he added that “local authorities should be able to both decide whether to implement the tax in their area or not, and the rate”.

He said: “Permitting each of Scotland’s local authorities to adopt a different design of tax, for example, one council charging based on ‘a per night, per room’ calculation, and another charging based on a percentage of the price for the accommodation, would create complexity and uncertainty for operators and guests, and make compliance and enforcement more difficult for authorities.”

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Mr Thomson has said that Airbnb agreed that the charge of the tourist tax “should be calculated on the basis of a percentage of the chargeable transaction”, instead of a flat rate.

He added: “Within that framework, we agree that local authorities who decide to introduce a visitor levy should have the discretion to set the levy at different levels, so long as it is inside a scale which is set nationally, i.e., between 1% and 5%.

“This ensures simplicity and scalability with tax collection, and provides a consistent guest user experience.”

The intervention comes after the Scottish Association of Self-Caterers told MSPs that the visitor levy charge “risks the competitiveness of the Scottish tourism industry”.

Fiona Campbell, chief executive of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, 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.”

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

“We need tourism. We are absolutely reliant as a nation on 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.”