Time for a bed tax?
By Ken Gainger, General Manager Byron Shire Council
Each year Byron Shire welcomes a growing number of Australian and international visitors to our beautiful surf beaches, seaside villages and hinterland.
In 2016, visitor numbers swelled to a record of almost two million and we are grateful for the jobs and opportunities that this tourism provides.
However, for a Shire of our size, with only 32,000 residents and just 15,000 ratepayers, we are straining under the enormous weight of the influx of visitors (with greater growth expected to come).
Hamstrung by State Government rate pegging and regularly overlooked by government grant funding agencies due to the size of our residential population, Council has needed to think outside the square to raise revenue and remain sustainable and viable into the future while addressing the stress on basic infrastructure and services for our LGA.
In 2015 we introduced ‘Pay Parking’ in Byron Bay to manage an overwhelming demand for parking in the Byron Bay CBD and collect much needed funds directly from our visitor population.
This year we were successful in our application for a Special Rate Variation, which will help us to renew and maintain our degraded road network and other critical infrastructure.
Admittedly though, this has been at a significant cost to our small number of ratepayers and our community has been understandably resentful of once again being called to foot the bill for wear and tear substantially contributed to by the growing number of visitors.
However, with an infrastructure backlog of $40 million Council had no alternative.
Due to its success in many other countries, a Bed Tax (or Tourism Tax) has been continually raised as a possible revenue-raising solution for Byron Shire.
However, State legislation currently does not enable LGAs in NSW to introduce such a tax.
Perhaps it is time that Australia joined the rest of the world in enabling its tourist hotspots to benefit from a Bed Tax and to alleviate the stress placed on our local communities?
Bed Taxes have been around since the 1960s and those who travel to prominent cities in parts of Europe, the USA, South East Asia and even the Caribbean are already familiar with the addition of Bed Tax to their accommodation bill.
Do visitors complain about the Bed Tax when they visit Paris or Barcelona or Rome? Perhaps some do, but many also understand that there is a price to pay for tourism – many support the idea of empowering the destinations we all love to visit, to protect what makes them truly special.
As for many LGAs, the issues Byron Shire Council faces have been further complicated by the explosion of accommodation sharing websites such as AirBnB.
For tourism hot spots like Byron Bay, this new ‘sharing economy’ has contributed to a reduction in permanent rental opportunities and has put greater pressure on housing affordability for our residents.
Alongside the State Government’s public inquiry on the Adequacy of Regulation of Short Term Holiday Letting and call for broader consultation with industry and community earlier this year, we have been exploring ways to register and regulate our own short term holiday letting policies.
Our mantra ‘Don’t Spoil Us, We’ll Spoil You’ has never been more relevant. All Byron is asking of government is a fair go – our regional and state economies will then continue to reap the dividends of a thriving and sustainable Byron.