Reform of Tourism in Wales: The Welsh Government launches it's tenth consultation, a 'Proposed new licensing scheme to level the playing field and improve the standard of visitor accommodation in Wales'.
As part of its radical reform of tourism in Wales the Welsh Government has today (16/12/2022) launched a consultation on establishing a statutory licensing scheme for all visitor accommodation providers in Wales. The primary aim is to establish a level playing field for all visitor accommodation businesses operating in the sector.
The concern around the lack of a level playing field has been a long-standing area of discussion within the tourism industry. Genuine businesses have supported a registration scheme to encourage investment in high standards and to ensure enforcement against those who do not observe statutory or professional standards, something of an issue since the explosion in casual letting and pop-up accommodation. While they were pleased that Welsh Government is now prepared to act on these concerns, WTA members are becoming sceptical about the delivery of the policy.
They are worried about the change in emphasis from a "registration" scheme to "licensing" scheme, pointing to the unpopular and bureaucratic licensing scheme in Scotland. They are also adamant that the implementation of any visitor tax would be fundamentally undermined if any register of businesses were incomplete.
Suzy Davies, Chair of the WTA said
"Tourism businesses from all sectors have supported the registration of professional providers of holiday accommodation. High standards are an intrinsic part of Wales' good name as a visitor destination and offer reassurance to local residents that businesses are responsible and respectful of the communities in which they are established.
"We don't need some heavy-handed system where local authorities have to actively permit businesses to operate. A registration system, in which the local authority requires straightforward evidence of compliance with statutory and professional standards, will do the job, with councils spending registration fees on enforcement.
"Registration is still a relatively popular idea. It would be more popular if Welsh Government could guarantee that it will capture casual and temporary lets which are promoted via social media, and ensure that online booking agencies only host registered properties on their platforms. Without that guarantee, the policy will fail to capture the very operators it is trying to discourage. It will not deliver that level playing field"
Adrian Greason-Walker, WTA policy advocate said:
"Enthusiasm on the part of professional operators, even for a registration scheme is starting to wane. There is a growing belief that it will be too easy for low-quality, non-professionals to operate out of sight of any scheme, whatever it is called. That matters because any register of "licensed" businesses will be used, in due course, to identify accommodation which would attract Welsh Government's bed tax or "visitor levy".
"Our members oppose a visitor tax, but we are sure that others who are in favour can see that basic problem of an incomplete register. If the register only comprises unproblematic, compliant businesses which already contribute to local taxes and are part of their communities, then only they will be asked to collect a tourism tax.
"How can local authorities be expected to identify visitor accommodation operating outside traditional marketing channels or who are difficult to recognise behind online booking agency anonymity? There will be nothing "equitable" about a tax raised on the back of a register which misses wild campers, unregulated pop-up sites, second homes selling space on Instagram, camper vans parking in lay-bys or individual home owners staying with friends and putting their home online as accommodation for events."
Suzy Davies added:
"The Welsh Government’s Co-operation Agreement with Plaid Cymru, which appears to largely be the driver of this reform, commits to 'a statutory licensing scheme for holiday lets as part of a package of measures to address the negative impact second homes and short-term holiday lets can have on the availability and affordability of housing for local people in our communities'.
"This is the tenth consultation affecting the visitor economy of this new Senedd term. All they have produced is new problems for locally-owned visitor accommodation businesses without any effect on the availability and affordability of local housing.
"This issue of a register of businesses has to be resolved and effectively implemented before the idea of a visitor tax can be pursued further. We need that level playing field, not this spaghetti bowl of ideas without any real consideration of their increasingly tangled effect"
The Consultation can be found here https://www.gov.wales/statutory-licensing-scheme-all-visitor-accommodation-providers-wales and responses are due by 17 March 2023.