Another blow to tourism?
Tourism is vital economic asset but is being ‘destroyed’ by government
Proposed culture tax for hotel guests would help fund conservation
of national heritage
Photo: PATRICK STUART
By INÊS LOPES firstname.lastname@example.org
Hoteliers and tourism entities in Portugal have slammed a proposal to charge hotel guests a special ‘culture tax’ to help towards the conservation of the national heritage.
The proposal, put forward by the Secretary of State for Culture Francisco José Viegas, suggests that hotel guests should pay the tax per overnight stay to ensure the maintenance and enhancement of the national historic and architectural heritage, “particularly when funding is restricted”.
Francisco José Viegas said: “The need to preserve the Portuguese heritage, in the face of a shortage of government funds, would justify this measure. For example, if hotel guests were charged an additional five cents per overnight stay, this would help the culture sector a lot.”
The Secretary of State believes new forms of financing the conservation of Portugal’s cultural heritage are pressing, even if that means additional taxation for the tourism industry.
Hotels would be liable for the tax and would be left with no option but to pass it on to their overnight guests.
Citing a study conducted by the Porto and North Tourism Board, José Viegas said 67% of tourists surveyed had said that they would return to the region because of its cultural heritage.
“Revenue generated from these visitors is reflected in the tourism industry but not in culture,” he said. “Although many historical buildings are not yet at risk of degradation, they do require conservation works, some costing millions of euros.”
However, the Portuguese Tourism Confederation says it refuses to accept more taxes for tourists and accuses the government of wanting to destroy Portugal’s main industry, which could actually have the ability to help the country recover from its recession.
In a statement sent to the press, the confederation said: “The measure would drive tourists away from Portugal. We cannot understand why our politicians continue to propose measures that clearly aim to destroy tourism.”
Algarve tourism leaders say the measure would mean another unnecessary blow to the industry, after the tolls and VAT hikes on the restaurant and golf sectors.
Elidérico Viegas, president of the Association of Algarve Hotels and Tourist Resorts (AHETA), says tourism should neither be the solution “to all evils of the Portuguese economy” nor should tourists be forced to support the costs of successive government errors.
“The Secretary of State for Culture’s proposal is simply another example of bad governance and demonstrates little understanding of the tourism industry, the country’s main export generator,” he said.
The AHETA president went on to say that José Viegas’ suggestion of introducing a culture tax for hotel guests shows political inability to implement economic growth strategies in Portugal. “The government has been held hostage by austerity policies taken to the limit and which are leading the country into a deeper recession,” he said.
“We should not make life difficult for tourists. We should instead create the facilities to attract more people to the region. Taxing them is not the way to do it,” said Elidérico Viegas.
“We have the tolls, municipal taxes for everything and anything, tourist taxes to fund the maintenance of sports complexes (referring to a measure by the Vila Real de Santo António Câmara, which the Algarve Resident reported on in the June 29 edition) and now a tax for the preservation of national monuments. What next? A tax for the troika?”
António Pina, president of the Algarve Tourism Board, said the tourism industry has been “assertive enough” in its response to this proposal. “We might as well create taxes for other areas too, such as health, security, civil protection and so on,” he said.
“Perhaps if the tourism sector received more help from the government, it could help cultural entities with the problem of lack of multilingual information for visitors to museums and national monuments.”
In a bid to find out what those who defend the cultural heritage of Portugal had to say about the Secretary of State’s proposal, the Algarve Resident contacted Lynne and Peter Booker, founders of the Algarve History Association (AHA).
Lynne, who is passionate about Portugal and its history and culture, said: “Taxing tourists because they choose to come here? Well, that is an interesting take on economics! If you want people to visit then you make it cheap, attractive and welcoming.
“To generate money for the cultural sector requires a pride in what you have to offer and for the councils to value culture itself, rather than make others pay for what they (the câmaras) do not think is worthwhile supporting.”
Peter added: “The Secretary of State for Culture implies that five cents per night per tourist will be enough. Has he done a costing? Are we going to be told of the results of his sums?
“If the museums and monuments attract many tourists, as he says, why is more tax needed? If these sites are not capable of supporting themselves financially, should we examine the marketing techniques of the culture ministry?
“To increase the cost of tourism when Portugal already struggles in competition with other holiday destinations is really a slap in the face for your customer who might then actively consider other destinations.”
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Review of patronage law
The Secretary of State for Culture said alterations to the Patronage Law were urgent to develop Portugal’s cultural industry sector.
The review of the legislation would be to encourage more private sponsorship and donations by creating advantages for patrons investing in culture.
It would also ensure that activities carried out within research, restoration and conservation related to the protection of cultural heritage can continue.
“Patrons should not expect to see their names in a plaque outside the monument,” he said, adding that tax benefits would be a better alternative.