Hustings season is almost at an end, with one week to go until voters go to the polls. Grayling review the key points from the tourism hustings, hosted by the Scottish Tourism Alliance and the British Hospitality Association.
The panel featured Fergus Ewing, SNP candidate for Inverness and Nairn, Murdo Fraser Conservative candidate for Perthshire North, Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat candidate for Edinburgh Western, Daniel Johnson Labour candidate for Edinburgh Southern and Green’s policy adviser Peter Mountford-Smith. The audience was made up of over 40 tourism industry leaders.
During the introduction STA Director and BHA Scotland chair, Calum Ross, highlighted that political parties should not take tourism for granted, stressing the industry needs to be competitive and forward thinking.
After the initial statements from each candidate highlighting their key policy areas in their manifestos it was clear the future of tourism overlaps into a variety of key areas, including infrastructure, pensions, employment, healthcare and education.
25 out of 27 EU countries have reduced tax rates for hospitality
Murdo Fraser was swift to highlight that this year’s Holyrood election will be different from previous trips to the ballot box. Tax will be a major factor and the candidates were quick to promote their respective plans.
Labour was the only party to state they would introduce a tourist bedroom tax (of £2 per person per night). This wouldn’t be a mandatory tax it would be option to local authorities. Daniel Johnson highlighted it would be a useful step to increasing autonomy for the local governments, however this was quickly rejected by Fraser who stated that Scotland is already seen as an expensive destination.
23 million passengers arrived at Scottish airports in 2014
The issue of Air Passenger Duty (APD) is a contentious issue between industry leaders and politicians. Fergus Ewing highlighted the SNP plans to reduce APD and to abolish it in the coming years, stressing it would be the single most effective way of encouraging tourists to Scotland, “sending a signal to the world, that Scotland is open for business.”
Alex Cole-Hamilton believed this could work as a double edged sword, which could encourage people to holiday abroad and the increasing number of staycations could suffer. Murdo Fraser would replace APD with a more progressive form of departure tax while the Green party stressed that 50% of flights in Scotland are taken by 15% of the population, therefore proposing a Frequent Flyer Levy.
The SNP are the only party who support a cut to APD. There was a general feeling within other parties that while the Scottish budget is under huge pressure it is questionable about whether this cut can be justified. There was heavy criticism from industry professionals who believe that scrapping APD would encourage far more tourists to Scotland.
68% of visitors start their holiday online
Over the last two weeks “digital” has featured as a high priority in the main political parties manifestos. The tourism industry have called for the 3G/4G signal across the country to be drastically improved and to be higher on the agenda alongside the delivery of superfast broadband.
On the topic of Brexit there was a consensus among all parties that we should remain in the EU. The general rationale was that we live in an increasingly globalised world which we need to embrace and enhance rather than pulling away from. Brexit would deter tourism and would symbolise the UK becoming isolationist. For the first time throughout the 2 hour hustings there was vast agreement. The entente broke when the conversation switched to the prospect of the UK voting to leave, but Scotland voting to remain and the hot topic of a future independence referendum.
The tourism industry in Scotland has gone from strength to strength in recent years and it is clear there is the enthusiasm, skills and cross party support for this to continue. However, it may be the upcoming constitutional matters which pose cause for concern.
Click here if you would like to read more about the hustings hosted by the Scottish Tourism Alliance and the British Hospitality Association.
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