A take a look at the sneaky charges at Canada’s largest vacationer spot that some name ‘a complete money seize’

With round 14 million annual guests, Niagara Falls is already a possible money cow to the various 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 seen in any respect, vacationers sometimes see them subsequent to provincial gross sales tax, or the town’s obligatory lodging tax.

Vacationers and critics say that placement on the invoice provides the looks of a government-mandated cost. However that isn’t the case.

“It’ll the proprietor” of the enterprise, stated Janice Thomson, president and CEO of Niagara Falls Tourism.

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Simply as there isn’t a consistency in how a lot is charged — Market discovered they ranged from three to 12 per cent — there isn’t a single identify for the added charges. They go by names resembling NFDF, or Niagara Falls Vacation spot Price, and TIF, or Tourism Enchancment Price. There’s even an LF, or Luxurious Price, amongst many others. 

Whereas they don’t seem to be charged at each lodge, restaurant or attraction, random spot checks performed by Market over almost a decade present the variety of companies including charges to buyer payments is rising, as is the quantity being charged. 

A woman smiles at the camera in a boardroom.
Janice Thomson, president and CEO of Niagara Falls Tourism, confirmed to CBC that tourism charges tacked on payments in Niagara Falls are going to the proprietor of the enterprise. (Nelisha Vellani/CBC.)

As an example, a $150/evening 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 Price” at its Niagara Fallsview location, although no such cost exists at most different areas of the chain, in line with the restaurant’s mum or dad firm, Foodtastic.

“It is clearly misleading,” says Prof. Andrew Ching, a advertising and economics professor at Johns Hopkins Carey Enterprise Faculty. 

What is the payment for? Entrance-line employees supply incorrect explanations

Critics of added charges say they lack transparency, significantly when an array of names are used. Many guests could not know what the acronyms stand for, and the Market spot test elicited generally conflicting accounts of what the charges are for.

In a hidden digicam 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 Each day Obligatory Tax earlier than correcting herself and calling it the principle Obligatory Cost, which the lodge combines with the not too long ago instituted Obligatory Lodging Tax (MAT) of $2 per evening, the one payment truly collected by the town.

The Radisson entrance desk described it as an environmental payment: “It pays to recycle.”

The Skylon Tower overlooking the Falls costs the bottom determine documented, an added three per cent on prime of the admission value. Workers defined the APF, or Points of interest and Promotions Price, pays for renovations and landscaping, amongst different issues, however may very well be eliminated if requested. 

At a close-by TGI Fridays, a server stated the NFDF, or Niagara Falls Vacation spot Price, “goes in the direction of enhancing the vacationer expertise,” whereas at IHOP, the server stated he had been skilled to elucidate the ten per cent NFDF as “obligatory” and going towards “upkeep and fireworks.”

In actual fact, the town’s famed fireworks are paid for by a separate fund, which receives cash from the MAT.

A well dressed man standing in front of a sign reading "Johns Hopkins Carey Business School."
Advertising and marketing and economics Prof. Andrew Ching calls the charges tacked onto payments ‘clearly misleading.’ (Nelisha Vellani/CBC)

Ching opposes charges that may very well be construed as taxes, and is anxious by front-line employees offering false info.

“I might say that is very problematic,” he stated.

The server at Milestones was upfront in regards to the Luxurious Price. 

“I at all times joke that it ought to be referred to as the BS as a substitute 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 don’t seem to be designed to be collected by a 3rd social gathering, like a tourism authority. They’re solely one other income stream for the companies that accumulate them, in line with 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 methods to spot them:

Investigating further charges tacked on to payments in Niagara Falls

Market journalists go undercover to analyze sneaky charges added to payments in Niagara Falls.

Market reached out to all 12 institutions we visited.

The mum or dad 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 stated its 4 per cent resort payment is on the low finish corresponding to its opponents and goes towards facilities friends can get pleasure from whereas staying at its property, not an environmental payment as Market was instructed. 

The corporate stated it is working with employees to make sure the messaging is obvious shifting ahead.

In 2017, Ontario’s then-Tourism Minister Eleanor McMahon instructed Market: “If companies in Niagara aren’t being clear they usually’re not telling individuals what the payment is used for, then not solely am I involved about that, then we’ll have interaction and do one thing about it.”

And but there isn’t a 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 might examine how the charges are marketed and picked up. As an alternative, it directed us to Ontario’s Ministry of Public and Enterprise Service Supply, which stated companies can’t misrepresent client charges as taxes, and any misrepresentation in regards to the function of a payment could also be thought of in violation of the Shopper Safety Act.

The ministry additionally stated 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 a indication the provincial authorities plans to analyze or have interaction in enforcement. 

Metropolis cannot drive firms to alter

Longtime Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati says companies ought to be clear and inform clients in regards to the charges earlier than buy, and clarify what they’re for.

However, he says, the town is powerless to drive change.

A man in a suit jacket looks off camera.
Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati says extra transparency is required in relation to the tourism charges charged by many companies. (Darek Zdzienicki/CBC)

Diodati is looking on the province to make use of its powers to “examine to seek out out initially 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 impression of the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the tourism sector.

Although he acknowledges that eating places and points of interest might take a special strategy, 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 individuals, first off, be sure [it’s] purchaser beware, and if it is on a lodge invoice, it’s best to have obtained an electronic mail affirmation. It’s best to have learn it, proper? Do your diligence, do your homework, proper?”

And if it isn’t on the invoice, he says, “properly then you do not have to pay it.”