Opinion | Ask and tax

The Tourism Department has launched a consultation process about the creation of a tourism tax. The issue has grabbed some headlines lately and is part of the broader discussion concerning the limits that may or should be set to the number of tourists.

The consultation takes the form of an online questionnaire that can be rapidly filled in by the residents willing to participate. They can do it by ticking the options listed. This exercise, limited as it may be for policy setting purposes, suggests a few preliminary comments.

The survey is a simple one. Four short questions and a few choices can be dealt with in a few minutes with half a dozen ticks. It is an easy, fast, and cheap way to gauge the sentiment of the residents. In that sense, the initiative is welcome and may provide interesting clues for more efficient ways to collect inputs from the residents when discussing and setting policies, in tourism or other areas.

But it is not without limitations also. How the information gathered in this questionnaire fits or complements those sourced elsewhere, including other public services and institutions, is a question one hopes were given due consideration.

Further, to be more useful, the launching of the online questionnaire should be preceded and accompanied by an ‘advertising’ effort. Residents should be widely informed about the purpose and intended use of the survey results and encouraged to participate.

The survey lists several policy alternatives. Their rationales, as well as potential costs and benefits, should at least be outlined. The linkages between the options and policy orientations identified in the questionnaire will not be apparent for most respondents, except in a very superficial sense. As a result, there is a concern that answers may provide less guidance than we could wish.

Two examples will highlight this concern. If the tax is approved, we are invited to select where to use that additional income. I wonder what respondents will make of “enhance sightseeing complementarity”? In ways to address visitor’s growth, the survey lists eleven “strategies.” It will be less than clear for many how they may fit the declared purpose, if at all.

Summing up, this is an additional and welcome tool to help frame policies and involve the residents in such endeavor; but it appears to require further refinements if it is to provide valuable information.