Sunshine Coast Tourism (SCT) members will be getting another opportunity to vote on the two per cent hotel room tax, the group’s president told Coast Reporter.
Celia Robben said Monday that the Ministry of Finance had suspended work on SCT’s application for the new tax, which the group wanted in place on Jan. 1, 2013.
“It is sitting on hold and they are waiting for a clear mandate to come from our accommodation sector,” Robben said. “They will have to vote again.”
The news was to be announced during SCT’s annual general meeting Oct. 3 in Egmont.
The setback comes on the heels of a petition campaign started by Josaphine Scheifele, co-owner and operator of Desolation Resort in Lund and an outspoken critic of the tax.
“At point of signing there were 26 signatures from operators based all over the Sunshine Coast,” Scheifele said.
The petition was also scheduled to be on the AGM agenda, along with bylaws aimed to address concerns about the tax.
“It’s a conversation being held by the industry as we move forward,” Robben said.
“We have a solid group of operators who have been in favour of this from the start, and there’s a group that has not been in favour from the start,” she said.
“So we’re trying to listen to both sides and find some common ground.”
In July, SCT applied to the province for the two per cent Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT), charged to customers of accommodation providers with four or more rooms.
The SCT submission included letters of support from all six local governments and signatures of approval representing 56 per cent of eligible accommodation properties and 64 per cent of eligible rooms — both over the province’s 50 per cent requirement.
The tax would generate about $250,000 per year, 75 per cent for regional marketing and 25 per cent for local tourism-enhancement projects, and SCT forecasts annual room revenues would rise by four per cent.
Continued local government support for the tax was evident last month when Sunshine Coast Regional District director Frank Mauro reported in committee on the latest SCT board meeting and down-played opposition to the tax as “bumps in the road.”
“The room tax is something I support,” Mauro (Pender Harbour) said. “I think there is a bit of a petition by some of the hotel owners that say stop the tax. I think there is some misinformation out there.”
“The hotel tax is also something we are supportive of,” Sechelt Indian Band director Keith Julius said. “We’re a small municipality and so every little bit of taxation helps.”
Robben said some misinformation on the tax had been circulated, but “on the other hand, there is realistic disagreement with wanting to go this route, and that has to be respected.”
The biggest concern expressed by opponents, she said, is the issue of fairness, as some hotel operators believe the tax should be shared by other businesses that benefit from tourism.
To level the playing field, a bylaw exempting the group’s 46 hotel operators from membership dues was to be voted on at the AGM and governance changes were also proposed.
“It’s an ongoing discussion. The board will look at this, this and this,” Robben said.
Scheifele said the petitioners called for SCT to withdraw its application to the province and redraft its proposed budget, giving more voting control over financial decisions to the accommodation sector.
She said some operators who signed the petition felt pressured to accept the tax and others are steadfastly against any new tax being introduced under present business conditions.