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Oct. 23, 2021 | Saturday
Editorials and Opinions
Letter: Hotel tax will not hurt tourism industry
Letter

Dear editor: 

I read with interest your reporting of town council's latest deliberations over the introduction of a municipal accommodation tax in NOTL, "Town passes controversial hotel tax – again," (Sept. 2).

Your reporting captured the usual baseless claims from the tourism delegations … the tax “will hurt the hotel industry,” it will “prompt a decrease in demand,” the tax will be an “impediment to recovery,” and it “will be detrimental to the town’s image.”

These baseless and unquantified claims received new packaging this time: we are in a pandemic, need to wait 18+ months for a $100K+ tourism strategy and, my new personal favourite, that the tax is a “divisive issue” that pits residents (who pay for the tourist services and infrastructure) against the tourism businesses (that profit from having the services and infrastructure available to visitors).

Three delegations were heard. Tim Jennings, from the Shaw Festival, warned  councillors that they don’t have enough information and need input from the industry and that the Shaw contributes significantly to the local economy.

But so do our historical position, wine industry, nature (river, lake, parks, etc.), Old Town architecture, beautifications, weather and proximity to major urban cities and the U.S. border contribute to our economy.

What he doesn’t say is that the tax has been studied, first by the previous council, subjected to analysis and a staff report, council committee meetings were held with hotel and B&B operators leading up to last time the tax proposal was brought before this council, and that no jurisdiction with a similar tourism profile of NOTL (entertainment, history, culture architecture, winery and waterfront) has ever been harmed by such a tax.

He also didn’t mention the Shaw has been in a significant surplus financial position over the past years while continuing to accept grants from NOTL ratepayers whose taxes have increased significantly over the same time period.

Jennings said the Shaw pays the town about “$220,000 through a variety of means.” But none of this “variety” is for tourist services or infrastructure; it is for use of town-owned facilities.

So for the Shaw, the ratepayers pay for tourism services and infrastructure and then Shaw accepts more money provided by ratepayers via grants. This is a sweetheart deal. He should have come to council to thank the ratepayers of NOTL.

NOTL Chamber of Commerce president Eduardo Lafforgue said the local tourism community creates value for the community (i.e. ratepayers) without actually saying what that value is or attempting to quantify it.

Nor did he mention that other Chambers of Commerce are funded by local businesses but here in NOTL ratepayers contribute to its operating costs. Another sweet deal paid for by NOTL ratepayers. Yet he didn’t come to council to thank the ratepayers. He came to ask that they continue paying the freight for tourism services and infrastructure from which his members profit.

Last, but certainly not least, were the brazen actions of the Vintage Inn Hotels, which sent a lawyer to plead "poor us."

Since the lifting of travel restrictions, NOTL tourism is booming. I’ve driven past the Pillar & Post and Queen's Landing hotel and see full parking lots. It seems that recovery is well under way here as it is in Niagara Falls hotels, which has a hotel tax.

The lawyer, when it was pointed out that Vintage has just raised its unadvertised and non-negotiable daily resort fee to $19.95 + tax (to cover parking, wifi and other amenities) did not explain why that fee doesn’t hurt their business but $8 on a $400 per night room rate will.

The hypocrisy of all the delegations was overwhelming. But, hey Couns. Clare Cameron, Wendy Cheropita and Gary Burroughs bought it. Sometimes using the same talking points provided by the delegations. Sad! Luckily, six other councillors saw through it and approved the next step for the accommodation tax.

Let’s hope that in 2022, NOTL ratepayers see some financial relief to the tourism services and infrastructure budget, and ask tourists to pay their fair share toward maintenance of services we provide so that these services and our wonderful town is here for their enjoyment for years to come.

Joe Accardo

NOTL

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