HOLIDAYMAKERS disembarking cruise ships docked off Orkney should pay a £3-a-day tourist tax under a proposal that has divided opinion among islanders.

Chartered accountant David Bilcliffe said the dozens of giant liners carrying hundreds of people that dock every year near Kirkwall could be worth £500,000 to the local economy if his plan was implemented.

It follows a concern that Orkney is being swamped by the large numbers of cruise liner tourists.

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However, the idea has been slated by opponents, with some claiming it would be deeply damaging to tourism because it would put people off booking trips to the islands.

Mr Bilcliffe, representing the newly-formed Orkney Conservation Trust, said the levy would conserve the surroundings and repair the wear and tear caused by the travellers.

It is pointed out the small levy would only be a fraction of the thousands of pounds most cruise liner passengers spend on the expensive jaunts.

Mr Bilcliffe also said conservation charges were common at other popular visitor destinations around the world.

He added: “There will be people against it for whatever reason, right or wrong, but I think most people realise we can’t continue as we are — bashing the door of Orkney Islands Council and bashing Historic Environment Scotland [about conservation]. It’s about Orkney people coming together and saying how do we solve this?

“The argument has gone round and round, exacerbated recently by the huge influx of cruise passengers.

“We’re not going to wave a magic wand and solve all problems overnight, that doesn’t happen.

“But just like any journey, you have to take a first step and all we’ve done is taken a few people who are together, we’ve looked at it, researched it and suggested it could work, so let’s take a first step.”

Mr Bilcliffe, who is supported by colleague Karen Scholes, of Scholes Chartered Accountants in Kirkwall, has been branded “crazy”, “utterly mad” and “just plain daft” over his proposal by social media users.

The Orkney Islands Council and the Orkney Tourism Group said such a move would need to be “approached with caution”, and that neither organisation supported the initiative at this time.

However, Evie resident David Bilcliffe and Karen Scholes, of Scholes Chartered Accountants in Kirkwall, said the concept behind the newly established Orkney Conservation Trust had been misrepresented.

Ms Scholes said the concept had been misrepresented on social media, adding: “This is something that will not penalise tourists coming for extended stays, and it will not penalise friends and family coming home, but it will hit the volume tourists, but only to the extent of a few pounds.

“I think if people understood that it would have had a more positive response.”

Ms Scholes said the idea was at a very early stage — Mr Bilcliffe is the only trustee and there is no board — but if there was support for the concept it could have a positive impact throughout the islands.

She said the money would be spent on variety of projects, such as improving the car park at the Ring of Brodgar, or providing toilet facilities at Yesnaby. “If people were staying longer they would maybe just pay the one-day charge regardless of how long they are here,” she added.

“That’s something we spoke about and that’s not what has come across — there will be exemptions.

“It is certainly not meant to hinder friends, family, students, regular visitors and people who are up here for longer than a day. It is aimed at turning the negatives from volume tourism, off the liners, into a positive.”

The council and Orkney Tourism Group said initial discussions had taken place, but no formal proposal had been made on introducing a tax.

A detailed assessment and consultation would have to take place if such a tax was even to be considered.

A statement said: “It must be stressed any proposal to charge people when they visit Orkney would be a sensitive matter, which would need to be approached with caution.”

The organisations added that “for the avoidance of doubt” it did not support a tourist tax at present.