HOTELIERS have welcomed a Scottish Government snub to Highland Council’s proposal for a nightly bed tax of £1 on every tourist visit.
The idea, which has been mooted by councillors on several occasions in recent years, would need ministerial approval.
Scotland’s culture and tourism secretary Fiona Hyslop has confirmed in a letter to the British Hospitality Association (BHA) there are no plans to agree to such a levy.
The controversial idea has split opinion in the north.
Senior Highland councillors last month sought to lobby colleagues’ support for the initiative as a way of financing infrastructure to replace that worn out by increasing visitor numbers.
The number of visits to Highland tourist attractions increased at double the rate of the rest of Scotland this year, putting extra demands on the region’s roads, bin collections and public toilets.
A levy would first require legislation to devolve the tax power to local authorities. Many tourist operators have warned that such a tax would risk "killing the golden goose" of tourism.
Kingsmills Hotel boss Tony Story reminded proponents that visitors already paid copious amounts of VAT - and that revenue should fund such infrastructure.
He asked: "A guest spending £300 is contributing about £60 in VAT, so how much more do you want?
"On a good day in our hotel we can take over £40,000 – that’s about £8000 in VAT. As soon as you start to put the tourist off they stop coming and you stop taking the VAT."
The BHA considers Ms Hyslop’s letter "a major victory".
Willie MacLeod, who heads the association’s Scottish branch, said: "The Scottish Government’s firm commitment to rule out a tourist tax is fantastic news for our members but, most importantly, for all visitors to the country.
"It would have resulted in an unfair charge levied indiscriminately on all consumers simply wanting to enjoy an overnight stay."
Highland Council convener Bill Lobban claimed that nothing had been ruled out and reiterated his support for a levy.
The council estimates that the mechanism would reap at least £11million per year for the region.
Mr Lobban said: "There’s a necessity to fund infrastructure projects which benefit our tourist based economy and discussions need to take place to find a way forward."
The cabinet secretary’s letter stated: "The Scottish Government have been clear in their support of the tourism sector throughout Scotland and recognise that the tourism and hospitality sectors are key to the Scottish economy.
"As you know the Scottish Government have been consistent in our stance that given the potential impact on tourism enterprises already subject to, for example, high rates of VAT we have no plans to introduce a tourism levy."
It continued: "I would repeat that, irrespective of the mechanism used to introduce the topic, Scottish ministers are not willing to consider requests to explore a possible tourism levy with local government unless the tourism and hospitality industry are involved from the outset and their long-term interests are fully recognised in any work."
A Scottish Government spokeswoman, however, declined to rule out the levy while offering an assurance that nothing would change without consultation with industry leaders.
"The Scottish Government has been consistent in our stance that given the potential impact on tourism, we have no plans to introduce a visitor levy," she said.
"Scotland’s tourism sector is flourishing, with an 11 per cent increase in overseas visits and a 19 per cent increase in overseas expenditure in the 12 months to the end of June this year."
She added: "It’s important that we build on that success and that any initiatives to maximise the economic return is taken forward in full consultation with the tourism and hospitality industry."
Recent data showed the UK was the world’s second most expensive holiday destination after Switzerland, out of 136 countries.