40 years’ old travel and tourism VAT scheme needs reform to reflect market developments – slips into 2024 for proposals
The 2023 review of the tourism VAT regime has been put on hold. The review was looking to revamp the scheme to reflect modern online buying, improving intra-EU transport and the effects of Brexit.
Whilst the aim was to produce a study in early 2023, with proposals for reforms in later 2023, EC has now indicated that it is now paused until at least 2024.
Ongoing review aims
The European Union’s special VAT simplification scheme for tour operators VAT is looking dated. After over 40 years of reducing the VAT obligation and tour operator packages operated across EU states and ensuring a fair allocation of VAT revenue across Member States, it needs bringing into the 21st Century .
The UK’s 2021 exit from the EU VAT regime and advantages the scheme gives to such third-party tour operators has amplified the need for reform.
The European Commission review is part of the EU Tax Action Package reforms, announced in 2020.
New EC TOMS review proposals
The European Commission launched the study to evaluate the need to reform the scheme. The review is considering the following:
- special scheme for travel agents,
- VAT rules on passenger transport and
- exemption on supply of goods to non-EU travellers.
Tour Operators Margin Scheme (TOMS)
TOMS was introduced in 1977. It treats the all pan-EU transactions made by a tour operator in their own name as a single supply in their country of residence. And VAT due is then only due on the difference between cost and sales price – ‘margin’. There is no right to deduct any input VAT incurred in return for this simplification. This reduces the obligation for tour operators to VAT register in all the EU states where they are buying and reselling holiday services (transport, hotels etc). This applies to both to B2C and B2B holiday packages.
The scheme has largely been left unchanged since then. The sector as advanced significantly, most notably the role of digitalisation and the role of online travel marketplaces and platforms. Issues include:
- Unfair competitive advantage for non-EU operators who face no taxation for travel services sold in the EU. With the rise of digital platforms and the UK exit from the EU, this has become a pressing issue.
- B2B travel, which is included, does give rise to distortions. The input tax cannot be deducted, so it is necessary for travel businesses to pass on VAT inclusive costs to their customers. This hits the conference and event organising sector most acutely who are at a disadvantage from direct selling from conference venues or hotels.
- There are varying and confusing applications of the rules by the 27 member states. Harmonisation for the efficient and fair operation of the scheme needs to be imposed.