Destinations finance sustainability through tourist taxes
Article written by Melissa Novotny, Operations Manager and Sustainable Tourism Consultant at Sea Going Green.
If you’ve traveled in recent years, you may have noticed a small tourist tax added to your bill when booking or checking into your hotel. Although tourist fees are often negligible, averaging only a few dollars per night, these types of fees are seen by destinations and accommodations as one of the easiest ways for globetrotters to give back to the places they want. ‘they visit.
Struggling with the impacts of overtourism before the pandemic, destinations like Amsterdam, Venice and Barcelona were among the first to introduce these types of taxes to redistribute benefits to communities and offset the costs of maintaining public facilities. As the reopening is in full swing, the use of these taxes has shifted to building back better.
The funds are now used to support the maintenance of sustainable tourism infrastructure, conservation projects and other plans to improve the “ecological friendliness” of hotspots. Although these taxes are intended to support destinations in their sustainable development, transparency is necessary to gain the trust of consumers (and industry) so that destinations continue to adopt them. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the following destinations have turned resort tax contributions into valuable sustainable tourism initiatives.
Balearic Islands, Spain
The Balearic Islands, an archipelago of established tourist destinations, Ibiza and Mallorca, are located just east of the Mediterranean coast of mainland Spain. Known for their azure waters, lively nightlife and stunning cliffside villages, these Balearic Islands are one of the busiest summer destinations, attracting hordes of European travelers every year.
To redirect the attention of the islands towards the preservation of biodiversity and cultural heritage, the Committee for Sustainable Tourism was created to select and finance projects using the profits generated by the tourist tax of 1 to 4 euros (approximately 1 to 4.40 USD) per day depending on the type of accommodation and length of stay. To date, the levy has been used to support owners of wind turbines in Mallorca, a heritage asset and the renovation of tourist infrastructure in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Tramuntana mountain range.
New Zealand is another, albeit less tropical, island that supports environmental development through tourism spending. Upon arrival, visitors pay a tax of NZ$35 (approximately US$24), otherwise known as the “International Conservation and Visitor Tourism Tax” (IVL). This compulsory tax applicable to all foreign visitors was introduced in 2019 and has since been used for the conservation of natural tourist attractions and surrounding amenities. Conservation research and development projects have received over NZ$3 million (approximately US$2.08 million) to protect some of the country’s finest tourist destinations, Milford Sound and the Cook.
This “biker’s paradise” renowned for its tulips, windmills and free spirits welcomed no less than 20 million tourists in 2019, i.e. more than just under a million inhabitants. A victim of its own success, Amsterdam was considered one of the most notorious cases of overtourism, while being one of the cities most vulnerable to climate change.
To combat the effects of overtourism and reap the benefits of its thriving tourism industry, the Dutch government has introduced a seven percent tourist tax on hotel stays with an additional €3 (approximately US$3.30) added per person per night; a daily fee of €8 (US$8.90) would also be charged to cruise passengers. Funds from the tax have been allocated to the sustainability and longevity of Amsterdam’s famous canals and bridges, which require intensive maintenance to ward off the pressure of wear and tear, not to mention the rising rides induced by global warming.
As one of the most visited destinations in the world, Thailand continually attracts a wide variety of tourists, from backpackers to luxury tourists, who come to enjoy the country’s bustling cities, jungle getaways and idyllic beaches. . To capitalize on this, Thailand’s Center for Economic Administration has set up a “tourism transformation fund”, subsidized by a tourist tax of 500 Thai baht (approximately US$15) collected per visitor. The funds, in addition to destination-specific tourism fees, will support the country’s restructuring from mass tourism to sustainable tourism, helping with conservation development projects like the Maya Beach (Koh Phi Phi Leh) makeover, which facilitated a recovery project to sustainably re-open the highly touristic island after its closure in 2018 following the impacts of overtourism.
Quintana Roo, Mexico
Home to some of the world’s first “sustainable tourism zones,” the province of Quintana Roo includes the cities of Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, as well as Cozumel and other popular all-inclusive resort and cruise destinations in the Gulf of Mexico. As of April 2021, a tourist tax of 224 Mexican pesos (US$10-11) is collected electronically from visitors arriving by plane or cruise ship. The resort tax was introduced by the Governor of Quintana Roo and supported by representatives from tourism organizations like the Cancun Hotel Association to bring additional endowments for social development and biodiversity support to the diving and snorkeling attraction. snorkeling from Mexico, the mesoamerican reef.
How much tourist tax would you be willing to spend if you knew it would go to a destination and its people? Let us know in the comments below.