In a report commissioned by the Welsh government, researchers at Bangor University have been analysing tax systems faced by visitor economies and comparing Wales’ situation with elsewhere. The analysis will be used as evidence in the consultation on a tourism levy in Wales.
When comparing Wales’ tourism industry with the rest of the UK and European nations, some interesting comparisons and statistics emerged. Analysis by economist Dr Rhys ap Gwilym and colleagues at Bangor University’s Business School has revealed which countries have a tourism sector of a similar size and importance to Wales.
The analysis revealed that Wales’ tourism sector is most similar to those of Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway and France. Selected as ‘comparators’ it emerged that economically, Wales’ tourism sector can be more closely compared with these five countries than that of neighbouring England, Scotland and Ireland. The analysis was based on a number of factors including the percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) contributed by the sector and the percentage employed in tourism.
The analysis also produced interesting results in relation to capacity. Wales topped the European table for per-capita tourist accommodation capacity.
Dr Rhys ap Gwilym explains:
“One surprising finding from the raw data is that Wales is the country with the highest number of tourist bed-spaces per head of population of any European country. A great deal of Wales’ accommodation is in camping and caravan sites, as opposed to hotels or guesthouses. One consequence of this is that Wales’ high tourism capacity does not translate into particularly high contributions to employment or income.”
Also, similarities between Wales and the five comparator countries existed despite their being very different tax regimes in place. The Scandinavian countries have higher overall tax revenues as a proportion of GDP, and much higher levels of government spending. Of the five, only two, France and the Netherlands have a tourism levy in place.
“Our analysis show that Welsh micro industries fare far better under the UK tax system, than micro industries in the comparator economies. However, a small to medium sized enterprise such as a family run hotel, with turnover above the VAT threshold, is nearer to the comparator countries in terms of overall tax burdens.”
Regarding the possible introduction of a tourist levy in Wales, Rhys commented:
“The visitor levy in France and The Netherlands comprised only a modest proportion (between 5-15%) of the overall tax burden. In Wales, if your view is that the tourism sector is overtaxed, then maybe your focus should be on the level of VAT rather than any proposed visitor levy.”
The Welsh Government are currently conducting a consultation into a possible tourism levy in Wales. If enacted, this could enable local authorities to apply a visitor leavy or tax on people coming to visit and staying for one or more nights.