WITH the likes of Manchester announcing plans to introduce a tourist tax as of April, a new poll suggests that there is strong support to introduce a similar levy for areas such as the Lake District.

Guests staying overnight within Manchester will pay an extra £1 per room per night on their accommodation from April 2023 - 74 hotels and short-stay serviced apartments already signed up to the scheme.

90 per cent of those polled by travel company Responsible Travel said they would be willing to pay a tax of between £2 and £10 per night in the Lake District, with proceeds ringfenced for reinvestment into local nature conservation.

With millions of visitors flocking to the Lake District every year, an overnight tourism levy could raise an extra £17.5m for the Lake District National Park.

Those polled were willing to pay on average £5 per night - and with an estimated 30.5 million overnight visitors to areas such as the Lake District each year, it could raise an extra £152.5 million for UK National Parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBS).

A spokesperson from the Friends of the Lake District group said it’s ‘encouraging’ that people would be willing to commit to the tax to be reinvested into preservation.

Kate Willshaw, policy officer at Friends of the Lake District: “It is always encouraging to see that people feel like they want to give something back to support the National Parks and AONBs that they visit.

"Here in Cumbria, we are privileged to be served by both the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks as well as three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Arnside and Silverdale, Solway Coast and North Pennines.

"They have endured a 60 per cent cut in real terms in their funding over the last decade so anything that could make up the shortfall in government funding and help care for the wildlife and landscape of these areas should be explored.

"However, it is a long way from a ‘willingness to pay survey’ to the actuality of a tourist levy.

"We would need more information about how a levy would operate before committing to supporting it.

"Not least, an undertaking that any implementation does not negatively impact access to our protected landscapes for less well-off visitors,” she said

England’s National Parks have seen an estimated 40 per cent real-terms funding cuts in the last decade, while for AONBs the figure is as high as 60 per cent. 

Gill Haigh, managing director of Cumbria Tourism, said they would be 'open to discussions' on a levy being introduced but are aware it may impact visitor behaviour.  

"Cumbria Tourism recognises that public sector finances are much reduced in Cumbria, resulting in services for visitors being significantly reduced. Indeed, in many cases tourism operators now fund many of these services directly.

"So whilst Cumbria Tourism would be open to discussions that explore this subject, it’s critically important that we recognise the significant contributions the tourism sector already makes to the county’s economy, the contribution it makes to the quality of the county as a place to live and to understand the impact such a levy might have on visitor behaviour, especially when competing with destinations which do not impose such a system.

"Tourism is hugely valuable to the county. Our own most recent, full-year data shows that in 2021 the sector contributed £ 2.6 billion to the county and accounted for more than 20 per cent of Cumbria’s overall employment. It plays an integral role to the overall well-being of the county, sustaining many amenities and making it a great place to work, and making a huge contribution via business rates.

READ MORE: Could Lake District businesses soon be charging a £10 'tourist tax'?

"We should also acknowledge the visitor makes a contribution to the public purse, not least through car parking, public toilet revenue and voluntary visitor schemes - such as the Lake District Foundation - meaning visitors contribute directly to support projects which enhance the environment they enjoy," she said. 

Our readers however, with many calling the Lake District home, were of the opinion that it may in fact drive visitors away. 

One reader, under the alias of Major Esterhazy, said: "Taxes influence behaviour. Tax tobacco and fewer people smoke. Tax refuse collection and there is more fly-tipping. Tax petrol and people drive less. A tourist tax would result in fewer visitors and reduced profitability for businesses within the national park." 

Another web user said 'footfall is already falling' in the National Park, with another commenting: "I'm totally against this, people are overcharged as it is."

Justin Francis, co-founder and CEO of Responsible Travel said: "Tourism relies on nature, profits from it, and greatly impacts it. But it can also help protect it.

"This is a small survey, but it starts an important conversation. For less than the cost of a single drink in a local bar, these overnight stays could raise tens of millions of pounds each year to help conserve and restore the natural spaces we love."