A VEHICLE-based levy for tourists visiting Scottish beauty spots should be introduced instead of taxing people to stay in paid accommodation, a report into overtourism has recommended.

Robin Pettigrew, chartered member of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, has written and submitted the document entitled Tourism: But Not At Any Price as part of a community response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on implementing a tourist tax.

Living in Lochcarron, Pettigrew has become increasingly frustrated with irresponsible tourists on the NC500 – which he insists has been “overpromoted” - in an “explosion of staycations” after the Covid lockdown.

Some of the more acute problems on the route include people defecating outside homes, careless parking on verges in large campervans and off-grid campers damaging the environment by setting large bonfires and widespread littering.

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His report argues a vehicle-based levy would be much more effective than a tax on paid accommodation stays given that the latter only make up a small part of the tourism sector.

The Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill currently proposes charging tourists a percentage of their accommodation costs to support local services. 

The report also calls for the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and Right to Roam legislation, which includes the right to camp wild overnight, to be reviewed.

On a vehicle-based tax, Pettigrew told The National: “Paid accommodation is a smaller part of the tourism sector.

“The explosion of motorhomes and campervans and people camping and travelling around in cars is a very large part of the problem.

“So if you’re only taxing people staying in paid accommodation, you're impinging on local businesses, putting up their costs and you’re not capturing a very substantial part of the visitors coming up here.”

Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology could be used to implement the tax, while rangers should be responsible for catching people who don’t pay their way, Pettigrew has suggested.

The National: Car park in Ullapool get busy with motorhomes as people travel along the NC500Car park in Ullapool get busy with motorhomes as people travel along the NC500 (Image: Paul Campbell/Getty Images)

The report additionally highlights a widespread lack of public toilets in rural areas – combined with an increasing issue of chemical toilet cassettes being emptied into normal toilets – drivers competing for insufficient car parking spaces and motorhome users camping “off grid” to avoid overnight charges at official sites.

The report states the Scottish Government has “failed to provide sufficient funding for the infrastructure required to accommodate the increase in visitor numbers” and Pettigrew is calling for a national infrastructure delivery programme “to the tune of tens of millions of pounds” to solve some of the more overwhelming problems for small communities.

There are also calls for the Scottish Outdoor Access code and right to roam legislation to be reviewed in relation to roadside camping and the report argues there should be a ban on non-local overnight parking, particularly by vehicles adapted for sleeping in.

The report explains: “The Outdoor Access Code hasn’t been reviewed for suitability in dealing with roadside camping. Social media wild camping groups have sprung up to advertise the popular spots resulting in overcrowding and significant environmental damage.

“The legislated wild camping right was never designed for this type of camping at the volume now being experienced, but does legally enable it.

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“Further, when tents end up being pitched cheek-by-jowl at the popular spots, even if everyone followed the current wild camping rules, the environment still wouldn’t cope by dint of sheer numbers – particularly in terms of toilet waste and campfire use.”

If necessary, Pettigrew – who has worked with business owners and residents in the Highlands to produce the report – said he plans to compile proposals into a white paper to be presented to the Scottish Government for consideration.

Pettigrew said he has sensed a growing political appetite for dealing with overtourism.

He said: “We’re getting more people coming on board with it, councillors and MSPs are coming forward.

“It needs a national solution.”

His report adds: “We can certainly agree that tourism has seen a phenomenal increase across all of Scotland and hats off to VisitScotland for achieving this success.

"However, though cites with their built infrastructure and extensive accommodation offerings can cope and indeed are well placed to benefit from increasing visitor numbers, our smaller and rural communities are struggling.

“The national focus has been almost entirely on marketing and very little reciprocal infrastructure investment has been targeted to ensure our rural communities can cope with this influx.

“Disappointingly, neither VisitScotland’s Tourism Futures paper nor their recent trends publication have recognised this issue.

“This paper is a plea to central and local government to ensure the predicted and sought-after growth in tourism does not continue to overwhelm smaller communities, damaging our natural heritage and ultimately ruining rural Scotland as a sustainable place to live.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is working to ensure tourism across Scotland remains sustainable.

“Since the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund’s introduction, £18.9 million grant funding has been awarded to 75 projects across 17 local authorities and both national park authorities, investing in facilities such as car parks, waste disposal and toilet provision.

“We also work with partner organisations, including VisitScotland, to deliver coordinated approaches to responsible tourism marketing, education and awareness activity.”

Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland, said: “We recognise there is a careful balance to strike between the benefits tourism brings and impact on communities and the environment.

“Responsible tourism is a core part of our recovery plan and Scotland’s tourism strategy, Scotland Outlook 2030 launched in 2020.

“We have adjusted our marketing strategy to reflect the challenges faced in specific areas, focusing our activity on encouraging visitors to visit a wider variety of destinations across the year.

"As part of the reopening and recovery of tourism from the impact of Covid-19 we have been working with partners on a Scotland-wide approach to visitor management. Through combined marketing and PR activity plus practical measures such as recruitment of seasonal rangers and monitoring of visitor numbers, we have been able to address some key visitor management challenges with this work ongoing.

“However, we understand that more work needs to be done."