A proposed tourism tax which is being considered by the Welsh Government received an emphatic thumbs down at the Mid Wales Tourism and Business Conference.
The conference, organised by independent tourism organisation MWT Cymru and sponsored by NFU Mutual, Aberystwyth at The Metropol Hotel, Llandrindod Wells, included an ‘Ask the experts’ question time.
The panel of experts comprised Adrian Barsby, Wales Tourism Alliance chairman, Rob Holt, Visit Wales’ deputy director of tourism development and major events, Suzy Davies, AM, chairman of the Wales Cross-Parliamentary Tourism Group and John Mercer, NFU Cymru director.
The Welsh Government is currently considering which of four new tax raising power proposals to select. The tourism industry across Wales is united in its opposition to a tourism tax proposal, warning the government that it risks making the industry uncompetitive against England.
There is also concern that the tax would add an extra burden to the industry when it is already paying more in business rates and meeting the minimum wage law. There is also an argument that businesses don’t need further uncertainty on top of the Brexit negotiations.
Rowland Rees-Evans, MWT Cymru chairman, confessed to being fearful about the prospect of a tourism tax and asked for the panel’s opinion on the proposal.
Mr Holt noted that many countries and cities had some form of tourism tax, but he fully understood the strength of feeling within the sector against the proposal, not least in the context of current VAT rates.
Mrs Davies argued that VAT was a form of tourism tax and she urged the Welsh Government to drop the proposal as soon as possible to stop uncertainty in the industry.
Mr Barsby said the tax would make the Welsh tourism industry uncompetitive and said it would be an unfair levy on accommodation providers.
John Mercer, NFU Cymru director, said the proposal was causing concern amongst farm tourism businesses.
“We need to be getting behind our businesses to get through the uncertainty that is being caused by Brexit,” he added.
One delegate commented that her business rates had increased by 600 per cent and an extra tax could be the tipping point where she and other businesses considered whether it was worth carrying on.
Mr Barsby said:
“It does seem grossly unfair that businesses that invest in small towns and become a catalyst for regeneration are then a target for extortionate business rate rises.”
Other topics raised by delegates were marketing themes chosen by Visit Wales, Broadband coverage in rural Wales, promotion of food tourism in the Cambrian Mountains and consistent signposting of visitor destinations.
Mr Holt said schemes to promote wildlife and to attract more autumn visitors to Mid Wales could be considered for support from Visit Wales’ tourism product innovation fund and it was open to delegates to consider applications.
Speaking about Broadband connectivity, Mr Mercer said it was a big issue for the farming industry.
“We have been working hard with the Welsh Government and providers on really pushing for the roll out of Broadband in Wales,” he added.
“Hopefully, we are seeing some progress. All the marketing in the world is no good unless you have the infrastructure to back it up.”
He also emphasised the importance of linking food and drink tourism with farming.
“We sometimes haven’t been ambitious enough,” he said. “There are some huge opportunities out there but we all need to work together to capitalise on them.”