If you stay, you’ll pay.
Kingston has joined the growing ranks of Ontario cities imposing a municipal accommodation tax on visitors. All hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts must charge the four-per cent levy to guests for nightly stays, then remit the money to the city, starting August 1.
“We know that all of the other cities in the province that have big tourist industries are moving ahead with exactly the same tax,” said Mayor Bryan Paterson.
It’s estimated the mandatory hotel room tax will raise about $3 million a year — money that will be used for local tourism promotion and marketing and for a new tourism development fund to help attract special events. Kingston is currently bidding to host the Brier curling championship in 2020.
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The mayor says the levy will ease the burden on municipal taxpayers to shoulder tourism promotion costs. “An accommodation tax is aimed at visitors,” Paterson said, “and so by asking visitors to pay a little bit more, it actually takes pressure off residents on property taxes.”
City councillors voted unanimously to bring in the tax at their June 12 meeting.
The tax also has the backing of local accommodation and tourism operators, who say the added revenues will help them in the highly competitive tourism industry.
“This gives us an opportunity to not only grow tourism in Kingston but also to keep pace with our competition and do more things to bring the world to our city,” said Rob Kawamoto, executive director of Tourism Kingston, a city-funded organization.
He suggested some of the hotel tax revenues will be used to market Kingston in cities like Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, and as far away as the United States, Europe and China. “I’m sure we can come up with really smart things to spend those dollars on.”
Tourism pumps an estimate $1 billion a year into the local economy and creates about 7,500 jobs, according to local tourism officials.
The city is also planning to impose the new tax on the unregulated room rental sector, such as Airbnbs. But before that happens, city officials are still working out details to launch a residential licensing program.
“The program will come to council in September and we could apply the tax at that time,” explained Lanie Hurdle, community services commissioner.
Kawamoto doesn’t think the new levy will discourage people from visiting Kingston.
“This is something that is the norm for the industry and it’s not something the visitor is really too concerned about. They are more concerned about the type of experience they’ll have.”
At least 14 Ontario municipalities are either considering or imposing the new tax based on new revenue raising rules allowed by the provincial government.