And that’s not a bad thing.
The Telegraph has pronounced 2020 to be the year of the tourist tax. Cities the world over are getting fed up with the influx of tourists who clog their streets and public spaces, stay for a matter of hours, and then leave without creating any lasting benefit for local residents. So, they’ve begun implementing tourist taxes as a way of raising extra money to maintain and develop the infrastructure burdened by these temporary visitors.
So far 125 countries have implemented tourist taxes, and only nine European countries do not have them – Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Visitors to Amsterdam are getting especially hard-hit, with a new €3 charge per person per night, on top of 7 percent of the room rate. Cruise passengers have to pay €8 if staying less than 24 hours.
The Telegraph reports that Venice is introducing a tourist tax that ranges from €3-€8, depending on the time of year; similarly, Scotland is weighing a tourist tax on campers and Edinburgh is considering a €2 per night Transient Visitor Levy. New Zealand recently implemented a £19 admission fee, and many countries have departure taxes, including Japan, Mexico, and Malaysia. (Some countries add it to the airline ticket price.)
Is it fair to charge tourists in addition to the money they’re already bringing into a local economy? Opinions are mixed, but it’s important to realize that tourists are not always as beneficial as they may like to believe, particularly those participating in mass industrial-style tourism, such as cruise passengers. As I wrote last year regarding the question of economics in tourism,
“Most jobs are low-paying and seasonal, and the money made is not proportionate to the number of tourists being hosted. The surge in cruise ships has increased the number of ‘fly-by’ tourists – people who do not eat, sleep, or spend money in a city, but simply use its infrastructure for a few hours before returning to their (highly polluting) ship.”
Justin Francis of UK-based group Responsible Travel told the Telegraph that he agrees with increased tourist taxes.
“We support them, because tourists are essentially temporary residents who make use of public services such as water, waste management, and public health and safety without paying for them. Tourists also enjoy nature and landscapes, street life and culture, architecture and other things supported by local communities, often without making a direct contribution to their conservation. In short, there is a hidden cost to tourism that must be met.”
What’s important is that the money raised go toward improving relations between locals and tourists and managing the influx of visitors in such a way that it does less damage and preserves the inherent beauty and attractiveness of a destination. As Francis explained, “We’d like to see the money from taxation reinvested back in to improving places for both residents and visitors. The challenge is about making it fair, to capture day visitors and people staying in Airbnb as well as hotels.”
I think the taxes are a good thing. Taxes are a powerful motivator for behavioral change, and it’s apparent that something’s got to give in the tourist industry; it’s invasive, damaging, and downright unpleasant in many parts of the world right now. I also think it’s possible to travel too cheaply, thanks to airfare sales and shared accommodations; this results in too many people taking trips without the saving, forethought, and time commitment that used to be a prerequisite for international journeys. I sometimes use the restaurant analogy: if you can’t afford to tip the server, then you shouldn’t be eating out. Travel’s not much different.
We live in a world that needs to slow down consumption in general, not only of material goods and junk food, but also travel, and if making it slightly more expensive encourages people to rethink a trip, then that’s a good thing. The fees are minimal, though, so I doubt it’ll have a significant impact on deterring people; the greatest benefit will come from those funds being used to better manage the tourist crowds.