Algarve discusses pros and cons of tourism tax

The “tourism tax” is a contentious issue worldwide. Some see it as an important means of raising revenue which can then be “re-invested” in the tourism sector; others deem it unnecessary and even detrimental to the industry.

The issue was recently highlighted by Barlavento newspaper, with a number of regional figures giving their views of the effects implementing such a tax would have in the Algarve.

As the newspaper points out, the region registered 18 million ‘sleepovers’ in 2016. “If a euro had been charged per sleepover, the region would have made a significant sum which would have allowed it to, perhaps, clean beaches, support firefighters, combat desertification, promote reforestation and bolster cultural events,” Barlavento writes.

But would the tax bring real advantages to the region?

Geographer Álvaro Domingues believes so as it would help restore the resources that are “used by tourists” when they visit the region: in other words, the ‘wear and tear’ on infrastructures like roads.

Alice Pisco, member of Faro-based group ‘Faro à Conversa’, wonders if implementing the tax would allow the region to stay competitive.

Algarve MP Cristóvão Norte says a region-wide tourist tax would only be feasible if changes were made to the law. “Without alternative legislation – without regionalisation – there cannot be such a tax,” he explained, adding, however, that the idea in theory does make sense.

Also backing a tourism tax for the Algarve are Dália Paulo, mentor of the ‘365 Algarve’ cultural programme, and João Ministro from nature tourism company Proactivetur.

Dália Paulo said the focus of the tax should be on “improving the region’s competitiveness and sustainability” and added that it could be managed by the regional tourism board (RTA), coordination and development commission (CCDR) and municipalities association (AMAL).

João Ministro believes that tourism, being the region’s main economic activity, should use such a tax for its own benefit so long as it is implemented “transparently” and everyone understands how it will be used.

But there are many who disagree. Pedro Lopes, regional administrator for the Pestana hotel group, says the tax would only make sense if it “created new activities that do not currently exist and only if they were considered necessary to improve the performance of the tourism sector and increase satisfaction levels among tourists”.

Sérgio Martins from tour company Rotatur says that a lot of groundwork and studies would have to be carried out to determine whether a tourism tax would be beneficial, while Vítor Neto from business association NERA says that most tourism taxes are created without having the best interests of the sector in mind, and that regional and local authorities would need to take care to implement effective strategies for tourism.

Elidérico Viegas from hotelier association AHETA feels tourists would not be “receiving anything new or extra”, in terms of advantages, if a tourism tax was introduced.

As Barlavento explains, a tourist tax was due to be implemented at the start of this year in Vila Real de Santo António, but the idea was eventually scrapped due to fierce opposition from hoteliers. The tax was also discussed in Portimão in 2009 but the plan never moved forward.