Saturday 24 February 2018

Losing sleep and patience over council's slumber tax proposal for capital

Dublin City Council plans to levy a 2pc tax on tourists with the money raised going to the arts, but this is delusional in a tough post-Brexit market

David Webster Photo: Tony Gavin
David Webster Photo: Tony Gavin

David Webster

There is a sinister and probably not misplaced view that, in high-tax economies, if you remain in the one position long enough someone will try and place a tax on you.

I suppose you could call it the standstill tax. Now it transpires that Dublin city intends introducing a forty winks tax - to place what appears to be a modest 2pc tax on anyone who requires an overnight in a hotel, guesthouse or B&B.

The logic is that the 2pc tax is so small it won't prove a deterrent to visitors but could prove a windfall for the local arts and culture scene. The money raised, we are promised, would be ring-fenced for the nurturing and promotion of the arts. Now where did we hear that one before?

It is easy to rally to the banner of opposing taxation. Two certainties in life are death and taxes. We know we are facing into a possible sugar tax, which on the face of it appears to make sense. Obesity is a major problem, particularly the growing numbers of overweight children. We also have placed such massive taxes on tobacco that numbers smoking have thankfully declined to their lowest levels.

That is a taxation policy which makes sense. Government is using taxation to change habits. But the logic of taxing tourists and visitors to alter a growing love of visiting Dublin, one of Europe's most popular cities, escapes me.

We are planning to tax visitors to the city to help fund an improved arts and culture experience. In effect we are giving with one hand but dramatically taking away with another. We are making it more expensive to stay in Dublin so that we can invest in the arts and cultural offering.

That is a policy that is going one way - less visitors and less money being spent across the city and filtering down into business, shops, restaurants, bars, taxi drivers and individuals.

The Dublin City Council website says: "Dublin City Council recognises the huge importance of tourism to the business and social life of the city." And in the foreword to their very own Destination Dublin: A Collective Strategy for Tourism Growth to 2020 - they quite rightly claim that "Tourism brings much needed foreign exchange, creates jobs and contributes to a better quality of life for Dubliners."

What they are currently suggesting flies in the face of their own policy. And up to now I have refrained from mentioning Brexit.

Brexit has led to one of our main markets experiencing a currency devaluation that relegates Dublin as a destination choice. Dublin is a short city break for the UK. That market now competes with UK cities - and price-wise, Dublin will lose out.

We all want to increase funding to arts and cultural projects. As chairperson of Tallaght Community Arts, I would like nothing more than to see greater funds being made available.

Somehow, I doubt if that will be the outcome of the slumber tax. The reality is once central government witnesses funds from the bed tax filling Dublin City Council's arts coffers, there will be a similar reduction in what they allocate.

Of course, the argument will be that other competing cities raise taxes on bed nights.

During my working life in the hotel industry abroad, I have witnessed at first hand the look initially of incredulity followed by barely simmering anger as guests are presented with their overnight bills which contain local taxes.

What may work in Rome will not necessarily pass muster in Dublin. Does Dublin really want to introduce what at best can be called an "irritable or niggly tax" - one that leaves a decidedly sour taste in the mouth that lingers long after the memories have faded.

Before the city fathers go down this delusional path they should work with all involved in the visitor experience to achieve common goals. A bedroom tax is ill-informed, ill-thought and illogical. Our Dublin citizens deserve much better than this populist nonsense from our public representatives.

David Webster is the chief executive of Podium Hotels

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