A CUMBRIAN MP has sparked a debate over whether a 'tourist tax' should be introduced in the Lake District.

Tim Farron's decision to launch a survey to garner views on the levy comes off the back of his summer tour of his Westmorland and Lonsdale constituency, where the idea was mentioned to him 'countless times'.

The millions raised through the tax would help to improve local infrastructure such as car parks, toilets and roads for both visitors and residents.

“Heavy government cuts mean local authorities have less and less money and so we need to explore more avenues to raise money to cope with an increasing number of people visiting the Lake District," he said.

“However, tourism plays such a vital role for our economy, so any new scheme that is brought in must not be so drastic that it puts people off visiting our beautiful part of the world."

Mr Farron puts the increasing number of visitor numbers down to the good summer weather, the value of the pound and World Heritage Status.

And although he is not backing the tourist tax idea, he is sure that the region needs a 'source of funds' to help the Lake District prosper from additional visitor numbers.

But one leading Lake District hotelier has slammed the suggestion of a tax as a 'diabolically bad idea'.

Jonathan Denby, who owns South Lakes Hotels, said: "First of all, several large well known chains, such as Jamie’s Italian and Carluccio's have gone into voluntary administration recently, and they have all given the unfair burden of business rates as the reason," he said. "The last thing hospitality businesses need is a bigger tax burden."

Tourism tax, also known as an occupancy or bed tax, is a levy that is usually charged per person, per night on top of normal costs.

It is on-top of the cost of a holiday, and is paid directly by guests to hotels, bed and breakfasts, and campsites.

A number of EU member states currently impose occupancy taxes on visitors, including Austria, Belgium, Portugal, France and Switzerland.

And Joe Cobb, chairman of the Lake District Hotel Association and executive commercial manager for Lake District Country Hotels said that he believed it would be a 'stealth tax'.

"I strongly believe this would become another stealth tax during a time when the consumer is already being squeezed," he said. "Following the increase in the National Living Wage, an increase in business rates, utility price increases and a five per cent increase on food costs, hotels are being pushed to the brink.

"Price rises have already had to have been passed on to the customer, so why push them higher during a time when consumer spending and confidence is considerably challenged already?"

Mr Denby added that tourism taxes worked elsewhere because other taxes were far lower than in the UK.

"I’m in Japan at the moment where the sales tax is eight per cent," he said. "The Japanese can scarcely believe that we have to add a massive 20 per cent to our bills. Tim should remember that we are competing internationally and if we want to keep on welcoming visitors from overseas our prices have to be competitive. An extra tax will make us more unattractive compared with other destinations."

According to Cumbria Tourism, in 2017 Cumbria and the Lake District received more than 47 million visitors, made up of 40.7 million day trippers and 6.6 million overnight visitors.

These visitors brought in £2.9 billion to the region’s economy, meaning that an additional tourist tax could be worth millions to the area.

Gill Haigh, managing director of Cumbria Tourism, said that the body recognised that public sector finances were '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," she said. “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."

As of yet, nowhere in the UK has imposed a tourist tax but in cities such as Edinburgh, the debate remains ongoing.

Edinburgh Council has been pushing for a tourist tax in Scotland, saying a £1 a night bed charge could generate £11m a year for the city.

As far back as 2011, councillors agreed in principle to a tourism tax plan, but establishing such a power would require an act of the Scottish Parliament.

Top Lake District attraction Windermere Lakes Cruises is one of the businesses that has been benefitting from an increase in visitor numbers.

From June 2016 to present, the attraction has seen Chinese tour group bookings increase by a massive 286 per cent.

However, managing director Nigel Wilkinson said that the idea that a tourist tax would be a way for tourism to more directly benefit local communities suggested that those consulted did 'not understand the massive benefits' that tourism already brought to the area.

"Within the Lake District National Park tourism forms the mainstay of the local economy, with tourism businesses providing jobs, both directly and indirectly, supporting the local supply chain and contributing to both national and local government through taxation, rates and rental payments," he said. "Many of the services that residents currently enjoy, be that the independent retail offer, public toilets in Bowness and Windermere or bus and rail services in the central Lake District would simply not be sustainable without a combination of visitor and resident spending.

"Before considering solutions, such as a tourism tax, a comprehensive analysis of the contribution that the visitor economy currently makes should be undertaken and that benefit considered against the costs. Without such an evidence base there cannot be an informed discussion about a tourist tax."

And Liam McAleese, Head of Strategy and Partnerships for the Lake District National Park Authority, said that it recognised 'the need to secure new investment into in the Lake District and Cumbria to support local communities and help move visitors around sustainably'.

"There are no active discussions on a tourist tax at the current time," he said. "Our current approach is to work with businesses and the Lake District Foundation to encourage voluntary visitor giving. We also expect new initiatives such as the Lake District Pound, to encourage visitors to spend more with local businesses and also contribute to projects in the local area. We are monitoring the uptake of these voluntary approaches."