Island business owners have spoken out against the Wight BID Tourism Levy.
Three business owners have complained that the “tourism tax” imposed on Island businesses in 2016 was “misleading” and doesn’t provide “any benefit” to small businesses.
One of the businessmen says more business owners would come forward to complain but “fear reprisals”.
Last year, figures released by Visit Isle of Wight showed more than £371,000 was paid into the Wight BID Tourism Levy.
Tony Bowdidge has been trading for four years at Tony’s Fish and Chip Shop in John Street, Ryde – he thinks businesses were all “mislead” from the start.
He said: “They said it was to do with all businesses that benefitted from tourism. Then they took out all the souvenir shops. Even the one down the front that benefits from tourism, none of them are in it.”
The chippy owner said the process was “unfair” to begin with as not enough small businesses that benefit from tourism were invited to vote and larger business were given multiple votes, including Isle of Wight Council which had three.
“We were outvoted before the vote even happened. I went round and did a petition, not one person in Ryde voted for it,” added Mr Bowdidge who went to court to fight the levy payment in its first year.
He continued: “I was the only chippy in it, so they let me out of it for the first year. The second year they said they’ve added Wight’s on so you’ve got to be in it.”
Mr Bowdidge has now been to court three times over the tax, he explained that money isn’t the issue as he pays more to charity every year anyway.
“The whole thing was just done under the table,” laments the chip shop owner. “I don’t think it was done fairly and it was all misleading. I don’t really rely on tourism here anyway it’s just local people all year round. When it’s sunny and hot nobody comes up here. People who actually benefit from tourism don’t have to pay, that’s what my beef was.
“I think most traders in Ryde, Seaview and St Helens think the same thing. It’s just a farce the way they have got it in. I just got fed up with it. In the end I paid up. Now they’re trying to get it in for another five years, hopefully this time we’ll have an opposition against it.
“All I can see is the money is going to the big companies that had multiple votes, all I see is we are paying into a fund to advertise their own companies, it does nothing for my business.”
Brian Fisher-Lathwell has ran the Crown pub on High Street, Ryde since 2003. He described the BID as a “con”.
Mr Fisher-Lathwell said: “How does a pub at the top of the town quite a long way away from the seafront with no signs advertising, get to be put into a tourism payment? I was told it was because my website said welcome to tourists, that was it.
“It’s going to cost me £4000 a year for five years for absolutely nothing and I’ve never seen the Island looking so empty. Why wasn’t Tesco put into this? Why not Aldi? Why not all the big supermarkets that take so much money from those tourists on self catering.
“I’ve lived on the Island since 1969, I was leading driver for Shearing’s Holidays, I know the tourism inside and out on this Island and they think Wetherspoon’s is as far as they are going to walk.”
Kevin Daniells who owns a rival tourism website to the BID’s VisitIsleofWight.co.uk, IsleOfWight.com said: “The BID was put in place for five years using the businesses money to promote the Island using the domain name VisitIsleofWight.co.uk (VIOW).
“After the five years, the ownership goes back to the Board of VIOW which is owned by the ferry companies, council and Chamber of Commerce.
“I cannot see any benefit in VIOW and the BID. I predicted that tourism on the Island would fall by 10% per annum on the Island under their leadership and certainly with serviced accommodation it has exceeded that.
“I am looking forward to seeing last quarter’s tourism figures produced by Tourism South East to see how bad the drop is. There certainly aren’t the number of people about, especially when we have had record weather.
“The biggest problem we have is trying to get people to talk about it for fear of reprisal. People that have spoken up claim that they have been victimised and in some instances publicly rebuked being told it is their product that is at fault.
“I have repeatedly asked people to stand up with me and be counted against the BID and the ferry companies, but nobody will. Until they do, things are only going to get worse.”
The BID’s response
A spokesman for the VIOW said: “Visit Isle of Wight Ltd is a not for profit company limited by guarantee and operates as the Island’s Tourism Board.
“The Board of Visit Isle of Wight Ltd has full levy payer representation elected to the Board in 2017 and these include voluntary representatives from attractions, hotels, restaurants and pubs as well as transport partners and the Isle of Wight Council.
“The proposal of a Tourism BID for the Island was consulted on widely between October 2015 and March 2016 when considerable media coverage and publicity resulted in over 700 businesses getting involved at a wide range of meetings & online surveys.
“During the consultation period, it became clear that the retail sector were far less interested in promoting the Island as a tourism destination. It was decided at an early stage not to include retail businesses within the BID scope. BIDs use the Business Rateable valuation classifications to create the categories of business that are included within the BID scope and all businesses who would be levy payers in the first year of the BID were given the opportunity to vote in the ballot.
“The BID voting process was carried out following Government BID rules. Each business premises within the BID scope had the opportunity to vote. Of all those who voted, there was a majority both in numbers and of rateable value in favour of the BID and so it was introduced.
“The annual BID fund enables Visit Isle of Wight to deliver a series of marketing activities which maximise the Island’s opportunity to benefit from holiday visitors. The BID’s aim is to encourage both new and returning visitors to come to the Isle of Wight, to stay overnight and wherever possible, to increase the spend per head of those visitors. Visit Isle of Wight believes that all tourism businesses on the Island, small or large, would share these aims.
“The present BID scheme ends in August 2021. In 2020, the tourism industry will be asked to consider if it wishes to renew the Wight BID scheme or consider any alternatives to provide funding for destination marketing.”