Mayor plans to tax tourists as they enter Tallinn

  • 2001-06-21
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - Just two weeks after becoming mayor of Tallinn, Tonis Palts has come up with the idea of taxing tourists who visit the city with a special tariff that would raise funds for improving of the look of Tallinn. Every tourist coming to the capital through its seaport or airport would have to pay $1.40 as an additional tax.

Opposition to the idea appeared immediately. Nordic Jet Linewhich operates a boat service between Tallinn and Helsinki, told the Baltic News Service the new tax would hit shipping companies first, and in the longer term may also reduce the flow of tourists into Tallinn.

"We are already paying an average of 20 Finnish marks ($2.80) as port tax per passenger in Tallinn and a similar sum in Helsinki," said Sigrid Tammes, Nordic Jet Line's sales chief.

According to the tourism department of the Tallinn city administration, the tax idea is completely new and the question is an open one. "The City Council will form a special commission that will handle the issue," said a spokesperson for the department.

Daisy Jarva, the president of the Union of Estonian Tourism Companies, said that implementing the new tax would be unfair. "Both ferry and plane tickets have additional fees (port and airport taxes), and it is already a problem for the state how to distribute them properly," she said.

Jarva said that the tax could seriously damage the overall attractiveness of Tallinn. "People coming to Tallinn know it's an inexpensive, safe and beautiful place. The idea of another tax would push people psychologically and spoil the image of Tallinn," said Jarva.

According to Jarva, none of the capital's competitor cities is levying any additional tourist taxes, she said. "Take Helsinki, Stockholm or St. Petersburg. There are no tourist taxes there."

Jarva suggested other ways of keeping the Old Town in good condition, for example establishing stricter rules for owners of private property. "Most of the Old Town is privately owned, even Old Town Square," she said.

Adding special fees to hotel rates is a way of charging extra money to tourists sometimes employed by tourist destinations. But this is not on the new mayor's agenda at the moment.

Some 2.4 million foreigners visited Tallinn last year. Experts have been confident that this figure will increase by 7 to 8 percent annually.

Palts said that from some 3 million tourists Tallinn could earn about 75 million kroons ($4.07 million), and that money could go to renovating the Old Town, opening new tourist attractions and providing better safety in the city center. Some of Tallinn's ancient towers could be made safe in order to open them to visitors.

Then there is the idea of renovating a series of tunnels built centuries ago that stretch under the Old Town. They have been closed for ages but could be a fascinating, if claustrophobic, tourist attraction.

Palts also has a project in mind to remove governmental institutions from the Old Town as they spoil the medieval atmosphere, and the expensive properties are a burden on the taxpayer.

In 1999 and 2000, 3.18 and 3.31 million tourists visited Estonia, respectively. Last year they spent about 11 billion kroons there.