VISITORS to Venice will find an unexpected charge on their hotel bills from tonight as the city becomes the latest destination to launch a tourist tax.
Anyone lodging overnight in the city will pay an imposta di soggiorno that adds as much as €10 to a double hotel room.
Research shows that authorities worldwide, from the Maldives to the Rockies, have begun to exploit what they see as a rich seam of earnings.
The Comune di Venezia has produced a brochure in nine languages to announce the tourist tax, promising visitors "you will become one of the city's sponsors, contributing to safeguarding it". The levy even has an official logo reading "Thank you for being a sponsor of the splendour of Venice".
The authorities say the levy, of up to €5 per person, "will help the city improve the quality of the tourist services". The tax will also be used for "salvaging the city's cultural and architectural heritage". But under Italian government rules, local authorities can also use tourist taxes to support public services -- leading to suspicions that this is a thinly veiled plan to help to stem Italy's massive public deficit.
While the tax represents less than 1pc on the €1,023 room rate at the Hotel Cipriani, guests in a typical three-star hotel costing €150 will pay €6 -- an increase of 4pc.
Evidence from elsewhere in the world suggests that destinations with a genuine claim to be unique can raise taxes with impunity. At the start of 2011, the Maldives introduced a "Tourism Goods and Services Tax" of 3.5pc, a levy that will soon almost double after it met little resistance among visitors.
Tourist taxes are popular with finance ministers because the people who pay them do not, by definition, vote. Local authorities are also latching on to the idea that some of the financial burden for public services can be shifted to non-residents.
But some in the travel industry view tourist taxes as damaging in the long term if tourists perceive they are being ripped off to pay for public-sector extravagance. "Any tax on tourism is unwelcome," said a leading travel company.