Why more German cities could start charging ‘tourist tax’

German cities and districts are allowed to charge guests an 'overnight tax', according to a ruling by the country's highest court.

A sign for a hotel in Dresden.
A sign for a hotel in Dresden. Photo: Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Kahnert

The local taxes – called Bettensteuern or bed taxes – are compatible with the Basic Law (Grundgesetz), the Federal Constitutional Court ruled on Tuesday. 

It came following complaints about collecting the tax by a handful of hotel owners in Hamburg, Bremen, and Freiburg.

They complained to the highest court in Germany – the Federal Constitutional Court – that their basic rights were violated because they had to collect the tax from their own guests on behalf of the city or district authorities. And, because the tax can only be collected from leisure travellers – and not those on business trips – the hotel operators said this involved too much admin work. 

READ ALSO: German hotels can advertise cheaper prices than, court rules

However, the court rejected the complaints. They said the hotels were not disproportionately burdened by the requirement, and that it is a reasonable obligation. 

Taxes on guests staying in overnight accommodation are also levied in around 30 other cities or districts across Germany, including Dortmund, Dresden, and Bonn.

Berlin, for instance, brought in ‘hotel occupancy tax’ in 2014. The name of the tax changes depending on the city. Cultural and tourism tax, as well as lodging, overnight, or city tax are common. 

What exactly is the tax?

The ‘bed tax’ has been in place in Germany since 2005.

It’s nicknamed that because visitors usually have to pay a certain percentage of the overnight price of accommodation per guest per night. This is normally around five percent, and it’s added automatically onto the bill. 

However, in some places a fixed amount has to be paid, like €3 per guest per night. But it can vary – in Hamburg, for example, the amount is staggered according to the price of the overnight stay. Simply, guests staying in more expensive accommodation pay more tax.

READ ALSO: How to save money on your taxes in Germany

Why was it brought in?

Hotels in Germany were relieved of paying some value added tax (VAT) several years ago. At the beginning of 2010, the tax rate dropped from 19 to 7 percent on hotels and overnight stays. So cash-strapped municipalities reacted by bringing in the overnight or ‘bed taxes’ taxes.

Due to a ruling from the Federal Administrative Court in 2012, “professionally compulsory” overnight stays are exempt from the tax everywhere. It meant that the rule only affected tourists. 

What else did the ruling say?

The constitutional court judges said it is not practical for the states to collect the money directly from guests, so it should fall on the hotel operators to do it on their behalf.

They acknowledged that it means additional work for businesses, but said these are tasks which are part of being an entrepreneur – like having registration forms filled out or paying VAT.

What does this all mean?

It could mean that cities and districts that do not yet charge an overnight tax could think about introducing it now. 

It’s also interesting that the judges did not say anything about a distinction being made between business and private travellers. It could mean that all guests will have to pay the charge in the future – not just those travelling for leisure.

People travelling on business trips in Germany can claim the tax back if they are charged it. 

Member comments

  1. Has anyone noticed that in NRW, hotels regularly add a ‘Messe’ supplement to overnight stays which can increase prices 50% or more. In fact, it happens so often, its almost the norm that there are trade fairs in Dusseldorf and Cologne being used to justify the hikes. And it doesn’t just apply to said cities, but is applied to towns and cities 50-60 kms away.
    I don’t think I’ve come across another region where this tool is used so comprehensively as NRW.

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For members


EU extends Covid travel certificates until 2023

The EU has announced that its Covid travel certificate will be extended until 2023 - so what does this mean if you have a trip planned this year?

EU extends Covid travel certificates until 2023

Cleaning up the phone and thinking of getting rid of that Covid app? Just wait a minute. 

The European Union has decided to extend the use of EU Covid certificates by one year, until June 30th 2023. 

The European Commission first made the proposal in February as the virus, and the Omicron variant in particular, was continuing to spread in Europe. At that point it was “not possible to determine the impact of a possible increase in infections in the second half of 2022 or of the emergence of new variants,” the Commission said. 

Now tourism is taking off again, while Covid cases are on the rise in several European countries.

So the EU has taken action to ensure that travellers can continue using the so-called ‘digital green certificates’ in case new restrictions are put in place after their initial deadline of June 30th, 2022. 

What is the EU ‘digital green certificate’?

If you have travelled within the EU in the last year, you have probably already used it.

On 1st July 2021, EU countries started to introduce the ‘digital green certificate’, a Covid pass designed by the European Commission to facilitate travel between EU member states following months of restrictions.

It can be issued to EU citizens and residents who have been vaccinated against Covid, have tested negative or have recovered from the virus, as a proof of their health status. 

Although it’s called a certificate, it isn’t a separate document, it’s just a way of recognising all EU countries’ national health pass schemes.

It consists of a QR code displayed on a device or printed.

So if you live in an EU country, the QR code issued when you were vaccinated or tested can be scanned and recognised by all other EU countries – you can show the code either on a paper certificate or on your country’s health pass app eg TousAntiCovid if you’re in France or the green pass in Italy. 

Codes are recognised in all EU 27 member states, as well as in 40 non-EU countries that have joined the scheme, including the UK – full list here.

What does the extension of certificates mean? 

In practice, the legal extension of the EU Covid pass does not mean much if EU countries do not impose any restrictions.

It’s important to point out that each country within the EU decides on its own rules for entry – requiring proof of vaccination, negative tests etc so you should check with your country of destination.

All the EU certificate does is provide an easy way for countries to recognise each others’ certificates.

At present travel within the EU is fairly relaxed, with most countries only requiring negative tests for unvaccinated people, but the certificate will become more relevant again if countries impose new measures to curb the spread of the virus. 

According to the latest data by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, countries such as France, Portugal and parts of Italy and Austria are in the red again. 

The EU legislation on the certificate neither prescribes nor prohibits such measures, but makes sure that all certificate holders are treated in the same way in any participating country. 

The EU certificate can also be used for access to venues such as bars and restaurants if countries decided to re-impose health or vaccines passes on a domestic basis.

So nothing changes?

In fact, the legislation introduces some changes to the current certificates. These include the clarification that passes issued after vaccination should reflect all doses administered, regardless of the member state where the inoculation occurred. This followed complaints of certificates indicating an incorrect number of vaccine doses when these were received in different countries.

In addition, new rules allow the possibility to issue a certificate of recovery following an antigen test and extend the range of uthorised antigen tests to qualify for the green pass. 

To support the development and study of vaccines against Covid, it will also be possible to issue vaccination certificates to people participating in clinical trials.

At the insistence of the European Parliament, the Commission will have to publish an assessment of the situation by December 31st 2022 and propose to repeal or maintain the certificate accordingly. So, while it is extended for a year, the certificate could be discontinued earlier if it will no longer be consider necessary. 

The European parliament rapporteur, Spanish MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar, said: “The lack of coordination from EU governments on travel brought chaos and disruption to the lives of millions of Europeans that simply wanted to move freely and safely throughout the EU.

“We sincerely hope that the worst of the pandemic is far behind us and we do not want Covid certificates in place a day longer than necessary.”

Vaccination requirements for the certificate

An EU certificate can be issued to a person vaccinated with any type of vaccine, but many countries accept only EMA-approved vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Novavax, Valneva and Janssen) – if you have been vaccinated with another vaccine, you should check the rules on the country you are travelling to.  

Certificates remain valid for 9 months (270) days following a complete vaccination cycle – so if you had your vaccine more than nine months ago you will need a booster in order to be considered fully vaccinated.

There is no requirement for a second booster, so if you have had a booster you remain ‘fully vaccinated’ even if your booster was administered more than 9 months ago. 

As of 1st March 2022, EU countries had issued almost 1.2 billion EU Covid certificates, of which 1.15 billion following vaccination, 511 million as a result of tests and 55 million after recovery from the virus. 

France, Italy, Germany, Denmark and Austria are the countries that have issued the largest number of EU Covid certificates.