TOURISM leaders in Scotland have said that a proposed visitor levy on overnight stays should not be used to make up for cuts to council budgets.

With suggestions that the levy on visitors making overnight stays in hotels, B&Bs and other forms of accommodation could potentially raise tens of millions of pounds a year, Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said it should be used for “game-changing strategic investment”.

Leon Thompson, executive director of UKHospitality Scotland, told MSPs it would be a “missed opportunity” if councils use the money generated for the “same old, same old, day after day things”.

They were speaking as members of Holyrood’s Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee continued their scrutiny of legislation which will give councils the ability to introduce a visitor levy.

Scottish Government ministers propose that visitors would pay a percentage of their accommodation costs for the levy, with this being applied to those staying in hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, self-catering accommodation, campsites, caravan parks and boat moorings.

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The money raised would then be reinvested locally in facilities or services used by tourists.

Rob Dickson of VisitScotland said councils would need to set out how they would use the cash raised to “strengthen the visitor economy”.

He told the committee: “What shouldn’t be happening is the substitution of budgets with funds based on the levy, the council making a saving, substituting that money with the levy.

“We don’t see that as strengthening and developing the visitor economy, we see that as a budget swap. That wouldn’t be acceptable.”

Crothall said: “This levy is there to enhance the tourism/visitor experience.

“It should be treated as supplementary income as well, it shouldn’t be at the expense of other budgets being slashed.

“This is the opportunity to grow the pot and mustn’t become a toilet tax or a trash tax.

“It is there to be used for game-changing strategic investment and there is a lot of money that could be raised here.”

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Thompson urged local councils to “be ambitious” with any funds that are raised.

He told the committee: “There is a lot of money that is likely to be generated and it is a missed opportunity if it just disappears into doing the same old, same old, day after day things.”

The committee has already heard concerns that the planned levy could risk the “competitiveness of the Scottish tourism industry”.

But Dickson said VisitScotland is “positive about the opportunity the levy presents”.

He said similar charges had been introduced in many countries across Europe, and had “largely been positive”.

Dickson told MSPs: “There’s not very much evidence of them impacting negatively on the consumer’s decision making and choices about going to a particular destination.

“They have become quite commonplace and part of what visitors generally, tourists are familiar with.

“We’re following a reasonably well trodden path that has been successful, and that gives VisitScotland grounds for confidence about the introduction of a levy and what a levy might achieve in Scotland for us.”

He stressed the importance of tourism to the economy in “many parts of Scotland”, and added: “There are a range of calculations setting out the funds that may be raised through the levy.

“Depending on which set of numbers you look at, we are talking about tens of millions of pounds per annum on a rolling basis.”