With round 14 million annual guests, Niagara Falls is already a possible money cow to the numerous space companies serving vacationers. However at a few of them, guests are discovering contentious charges added to their payments — and CBC Market has discovered they’re rising.
If observed in any respect, vacationers sometimes see them subsequent to provincial gross sales tax, or the town’s Municipal Lodging Tax.
Vacationers and critics say that placement on the invoice offers the looks of a government-mandated cost. However that isn’t the case.
“It should the proprietor” of the enterprise, mentioned Janice Thomson, president and CEO of Niagara Falls Tourism.
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Simply as there isn’t any consistency in how a lot is charged — Market discovered they ranged from three to 12 per cent — there isn’t any single title for the added charges. They go by names corresponding to NFDF, or Niagara Falls Vacation spot Charge, and TIF, or Tourism Enchancment Charge. There’s even an LF, or Luxurious Charge, amongst many others.
Whereas they aren’t charged at each lodge, restaurant or attraction, random spot checks performed by Market over practically a decade present the variety of companies including charges to buyer payments is rising, as is the quantity being charged.
As an illustration, a $150/night time lodge cost would see as much as a further $18 added.
“It is a whole money seize,” a server at Milestones restaurant instructed an undercover Market producer. When requested by clients, she says she “cringe[s] each time and I am completely sincere about it as a result of that is what it’s.”
The restaurant costs a six per cent “Luxurious Charge” at its Niagara Fallsview location, although no such cost exists at most different areas of the chain, in response to the restaurant’s dad or mum firm, Foodtastic.
“It is clearly misleading,” says Prof. Andrew Ching, a advertising and economics professor at Johns Hopkins Carey Enterprise College.
What is the charge for? Entrance-line employees provide incorrect explanations
Critics of added charges say they lack transparency, notably when an array of names are used. Many guests could not know what the acronyms stand for, and the Market spot test elicited typically conflicting accounts of what the charges are for.
In a hidden digital camera spot test of inns and eating places, journalists requested for an evidence of the added charges and obtained some deceptive explanations from front-line employees.
On the Days Inn, a staffer described it as a Every day Obligatory Tax earlier than correcting herself and calling it the primary Obligatory Cost, which the lodge combines with the lately instituted Municipal Lodging Tax (MAT) of $2 per night time, the one charge really collected by the town.
The Radisson entrance desk described it as an environmental charge: “It pays to recycle.”
The Skylon Tower overlooking the Falls costs the bottom determine documented, an added three per cent on high of the admission value. Employees defined the APF, or Sights and Promotions Charge, pays for renovations and landscaping, amongst different issues, however may very well be eliminated if requested.
At a close-by TGI Fridays, a server mentioned the NFDF, or Niagara Falls Vacation spot Charge, “goes in direction of bettering the vacationer expertise,” whereas at IHOP, the server mentioned he had been educated to clarify the ten per cent NFDF as “obligatory” and going towards “upkeep and fireworks.”
The truth is, the town’s famed fireworks are paid for by a separate fund, which receives cash from the MAT.
Ching opposes charges that may very well be construed as taxes, and is worried by front-line employees offering false data.
“I’d say that is very problematic,” he mentioned.
The server at Milestones was upfront concerning the Luxurious Charge.
“I at all times joke that it must be known as the BS as an alternative of the LF,” she instructed Market journalists posing as vacationers. She described the charges as “insulting as a result of the costs are jacked up in vacationer areas in all places already.”
Authorities has promised motion earlier than
The Ontario authorities has allowed vacation spot advertising charges in vacationer communities since 2004. A number of communities adopted such charges, together with Niagara Falls.
The town additionally now collects the MAT from sure lodge stays. The cash collected funds vacationer initiatives within the metropolis.
However the charges being added are along with the MAT.
They aren’t designed to be collected by a 3rd celebration, like a tourism authority. They’re solely one other income stream for the companies that gather them, in response to Thomson.
Whereas inns do present the added charges when a reservation is made, the Market visits discovered some eating places don’t present discover of the charges on menus or indicators.
WATCH | Monitoring sneaky add-on costs in Niagara Falls, and find out how to spot them:
Market reached out to all 12 institutions we visited.
The dad or mum firms of Days Inn, Milestones, Embassy Suites and Starbucks despatched us statements, saying they do not management the pricing, and charging these further charges is exclusive to the independently operated areas in Niagara Falls.
The Radisson mentioned its 4 per cent resort charge is on the low finish corresponding to its opponents and goes towards facilities friends can take pleasure in whereas staying at its property, not an environmental charge as Market was instructed.
The corporate mentioned it is working with employees to make sure the messaging is evident transferring ahead.
In 2017, Ontario’s then-Tourism Minister Eleanor McMahon instructed Market: “If companies in Niagara will not be being clear and so they’re not telling folks what the charge is used for, then not solely am I involved about that, then we’ll interact and do one thing about it.”
And but there isn’t any indication the federal government took any motion.
Market shared its newest findings with the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Tradition and Sport and requested if it will examine how the charges are marketed and picked up. As a substitute, it directed us to Ontario’s Ministry of Public and Enterprise Service Supply, which mentioned companies can not misrepresent shopper charges as taxes, and any misrepresentation concerning the objective of a charge could also be thought-about in violation of the Shopper Safety Act.
The ministry additionally mentioned any company convicted of an offence may very well be fined as much as $250,000.
Ministry investigations can start with complaints from shoppers, however there isn’t any indication the provincial authorities plans to research or interact in enforcement.
Metropolis cannot pressure firms to alter
Longtime Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati says companies must be clear and inform clients concerning the charges earlier than buy, and clarify what they’re for.
However, he says, the town is powerless to pressure change.
Diodati is asking on the province to make use of its powers to “examine to search out out to begin with if it is allowed, if it is authorized, and the query is that if it is a good suggestion.”
He does defend the addition of charges at these companies, nevertheless, particularly with the devastating affect of the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the tourism sector.
Although he acknowledges that eating places and points of interest may take a distinct method, together with by rising the price of their rooms, meals and entry costs, reasonably than tacking on charges many vacationers do not perceive.
Diodati has recommendation for vacationers.
“I at all times inform folks, first off, ensure [it’s] purchaser beware, and if it is on a lodge invoice, you must have obtained an e mail affirmation. You must have learn it, proper? Do your diligence, do your homework, proper?”
And if it isn’t on the invoice, he says, “effectively then you do not have to pay it.”