Taxes on tourists ‘illogical’

A tourist who takes a guided wildlife tour in Sweden pays four times as much tax on his or her ticket as a tourist who visits a zoo. Illogical, says an organization promoting eco-tourism in Sweden.

The rate of Value Added Tax (VAT) on tourist sites varies widely and is governed by a byzantine set of regulations. Different levels of VAT apply to guided tours in museums and guided tours of cities or nights on campsites and nights spent at guest marinas, according to report by the Swedish Eco-Tourism Association (Svensk Ekotourismförening).

A tourist pays 25 percent for a guided city tour – but only if the tour is on foot or bicycle. If the same trip is made on a bus, the VAT falls to six percent. The same applies to boat trips – taking a waterborne sightseeing tour on a steamer and you will pay 6 percent VAT. Rent a kayak and a guide and you will pay the full rate of 25 percent.

Many public bodies, such as museums, are entirely absolved from charging VAT. Voluntary-sector organizations are subject to special rules and varied tax rates.

“It’s worrying that VAT rules in practice disadvantage small-scale eco-tourism. It’s a problem that the most labour-intensive and least profitable part of the Swedish tourism sector is disadvantaged in this way,” said Per Jiborn of the Swedish Eco-Tourism Association.

The association’s report also shows that many small companies in the tourist industry would favour a flat rate of VAT for all companies in the sector. Jiborn called for all Sweden’s political parties to commit to changing the current rules.

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Sweden launches bid to become world’s top tourism destination by 2030

Forget the pyramids, the canals of Venice or the Eiffel Tower – the Swedish government has presented a plan to make Sweden the world's most attractive tourism destination by 2030 – but it's not yet clear how.

Sweden launches bid to become world's top tourism destination by 2030
Many tourists are attracted to Sweden because of its nature. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

In a press conference on Monday, Sweden’s Minister for Business, Industry and Innovation Ibrahim Baylan outlined the new strategy, which aims to make Sweden “the world’s most sustainable and attractive tourism destination built on innovation” by 2030.

Baylan referred to Sweden as a country which “is usually ranked as one of the world’s most innovative countries”, which he argued can “create value for the tourism industry”.

According to Baylan, the strategy builds on “sustainability’s three dimensions – it has to be environmentally, socially and economically sustainable”. The strategy will also “tie into the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030”, he said.

Topics covered by the new tourism strategy include the climate impact of tourism, equality and inclusion in the tourism industry and the importance of preserving shared resources such as national parks and sustainable nature tourism such as fishing and hunting.

The press release highlights the importance of natural tourism, explaining that the pandemic has led to people visiting natural and cultural environments “to a greater extent than before”, increasing wear and tear to natural areas.

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Tourism is an important industry for Sweden, providing employment in both urban and rural areas, as well as generating wealth – before the coronavirus pandemic, the tourism industry represented on average 2.7 percent of Sweden’s GDP per year. The tourism industry also employs a high amount of people from foreign backgrounds – making up over a third (34 percent) of all employees in the industry.

During the pandemic, overnight stays declined in almost every Swedish municipality, with the biggest declines seen in Sweden’s larger cities and border municipalitites.

The government’s plans also include a focus on jobs and skill development, so that workers have the right qualifications for the industry – this reflects issues currently faced by the restaurant and hotel industry in finding skilled workers in the wake of the pandemic. 

There are currently no details as to how the government will achieve this strategy, or indeed how it will measure success. But Sweden is aiming high if it wants to be the world’s most attractive tourist destination by 2030. In 2019, it was ranked the 54th top tourist destination in the world by the UN World Tourism Organisation.