What Travel Writers Say

Niagara Falls, a Tourism Rip-Off?

© Mike Keenan

I just watched another CBC News Marketplace undercover investigation that documented how "tourism fees," which are not supposed to be compulsory, have actually risen at some Niagara Falls hotels and restaurants.

Marketplace reporters had a difficult time getting an interview with Ontario's Tourism Minister Eleanor McMahon who then played "pass the hot potato" with Niagara Falls Mayor, Jim Diodati, on camera, both of whom declared that the matter did not come under their purview. The Niagara Falls Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Partnership of Niagara and Niagara Falls Tourism have nothing to do with the fee. The Niagara Parks Commission does not charge a fee.

The controversial tourism fee, operating under myriad names, one of which is a "Destination Marketing Fee," is applied in an ad hoc manner, and some businesses have more than doubled the fee in the past 18 months.

Marketplace discovered that many hotels, restaurants and attractions charged customers the fee, neglecting to advise them that it's voluntary. Equally disturbing, there's no third party collecting the money, no monitoring how it's spent and no paper trail, so Deep Throat's great advice to "follow the money," might be difficult to accomplish in this case. Anyone can see that the operation lends itself to abuse and that the financial amounts involved could be quite steep. An extra $10-$20 on each hotel bill certainly adds up!

East Side Mario's went from 3.8 per cent to 8 per cent, however, the biggest gouger was the Embassy Suites by Hilton Hotel which jumped from 3.8 per cent to 10 per cent. Neither Ontario's Tourism Minister Eleanor McMahon or Niagara Falls Mayor, Jim Diodati, knows where the cash goes. Some say it's for fireworks. Fireworks indeed. Granted, Diodati suggested that McMahon give him authority to regulate the fees.

Marketplace reports that the fee is often found at the bottom of the bill beneath the HST (Harmonized Sales Tax). It might be labeled a Destination Productivity Fee (DPF), a Tourism Improvement Fee (TIF), a Attractions and Promotions Fee (APF) or a Niagara Falls Destination Fee (NFDF). Using a hidden camera, they revealed that the fee arbitrarily increased from 3.8 per cent to 5 per cent at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel and the IHOP restaurant.

Marketplace suggests that if one thinks they have received ambiguous information about the tourism fee, contact the Ministry of Tourism at 1-888-997-9015.

Niagara Falls tourism fee: Is it mandatory? UPDATE (CBC Marketplace)

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