Tallinn needs tourist tax says city council chief

Tallinn City Council chief Mihhail Kõlvart (Centre).
Tallinn City Council chief Mihhail Kõlvart (Centre). Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

Tallinn City Government should consider imposing a 'tourist tax' on incoming tourists visiting the Estonian capital, according to Tallinn City Council chief Mihhail Kõlvart (Centre), repeating a claim he had made in November 2017. According to Mr. Kõlvart, even a minimal tax rate could bring several million euros to the City's coffers.

"To maintain Tallinn's status as an internationally known and attractive destination for both recreational and business tourism, the city constantly needs to invest in both its environment as experienced by tourists, and its marketing,'' Mr. Kõlvart said, speaking at a press conference marking the opening of the council's autumn session.

''The city of Tallinn hosts variety of international cultural and sporting events which bring a large number of outside visitors to Tallinn and Estonia,'' Mr. Kõlvart went on.

A small tax can bring a large gain

There needs to be a balance struck between a tourist not noticing any dent in their pocketbook from a visit, but at the same time bringing needed revenue to the city, Mr. Kõlvart went on.

''Even a one-euro-per-night levy on each tourist would bring the city up to €2.8 million per annum in revenue,'' he stated.

This money cold then be used for developing urban infrastructure, renovations to notable buildings in the old town including churches, for marketing purposes and other costs related to tourism, Mr. Kõlvart claimed.

This kind of city tax, or 'sustainability tax' is not simply the brainchild of Tallinn City Council but is already levied in cities in around 15 European states, with the resultant revenues put back into the city and region, Mr. Kõlvart argued.

Tallinn tourist sector burgeoning

"Tallinn, as a tourist destination, is doing well," he noted. This is reflected in the 4.5 million tourists who visited Tallinn in 2017, as well as its position as second most popular cruise ship destination on the Baltic, the latter being a growth area and doubling over the last 10 years to a total of 570,000 crusie ship passengers for 2018, Mr. Kõlvart claimed.

The number of overnight stays in the city has jumped by 50%, from 1.8 million to 2.7 million, he also noted.

So far as conference and business trips go, it is a similar story, according to Mr. Kõlvart, with more than 3,700 conference events having taken place last year, which should also be an impetus in the eventual refurbishment of the Soviet-era Linnahall complex, something which is likely to cost around €100 million, he opined.

Notable conferences in recent months include the CyCon 2018 cybersecurity conference and the annual Lennart Meri conference which also focuses on security. International sporting events which have been a big draw include the SEB Tallinn Marathon held every September, and two in August 2018: The Ironman triathlon event and the UEFA Super Cup.

To what extent last year's figures were boosted by Estonia's six month period as holder of the rotating EU Council Presidency and the large numbers of bureaucrats and others which that brought, Mr. Kõlvart did not mention.

SDE disagrees

However not all politicians are of the same mind as Mr. Kõlvart on this issue. Tallinn City Council Social Democratic Party (SDE) leader Rainer Vakra said that such a tax was not needed.

"A tourism tax would slow down the tourism sector in both the capital and the whole of Estonia," he said.

''We want to attract more tourists to Tallinn and Estonia, not overcharge them," Mr. Vakra went on.

Mihhail Kõlvart, a former Deputy Mayor of Tallinn, was elected City Council chair in October 2017.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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