Tourism helps support NOTL, says B&B owner
As past president of the Bed and Breakfast Association, let me point out that the short-term rental industry in Niagara-on-the-Lake is a tourist attraction in and of itself. Visitors choose NOTL in order to experience a B&B for the first time because of the reputation many years of successful B&B’s have earned. Based on the feedback we receive from our guests, they tell us that “we are the world standard for which they judge their future B&B stays.”
The cottage/vacation rental community here is equally highly regarded, due to their hands-on approach and high standard of quality and service. Tourists to our town love the option of renting a cottage, often for a family gathering in one place. It gives them the freedom to cook, and many have special diets. Also, many tourists love to travel with the family dog and seek out pet-friendly accommodations. Others prefer the freedom of having their own property during their stay. With the current selection available, people have a choice.
Accommodation properties live in harmony with our resident neighbours. It feels like we are using a small number of complaints to paint the picture that residents and accommodation owners are in constant conflict. In fact, we work together to take care of each other, and many of us are social with our neighbours, but just like any other community, sometimes we don’t agree. So let’s come to the table to address our differences with a positive solution.
B&B and vacation owners are private concierges for our guests. The introduction of a municipal accommodation tax (MAT) will damage the relationship. It is inevitable that guests will strongly question this tax, and we know this because we already have to explain the HST. If you think a pamphlet explaining the tax is going to placate them, I suggest you hang out at a B&B for a while.
According to Town numbers, there are approximately 400 short-term rental (STR) properties in NOTL. This represents a huge number of different calendar and property management systems used for these businesses. There is no possible way to determine how and/or if these systems can adapt to a new tax, and at what cost. These continued added burdens will contribute to closures and the decline of the STR industry.
Ultimately, this tax will only contribute to the decline of tourism, and the loss of the economic and social benefits that our small business operators bring to the NOTL way of life.
Is this council prepared to be responsible for the change in NOTL’s image and economics when we lose the unique, personal-touch experiences that visitors enjoy through stays at STRs? How will you replace this lost income? The BBA cannot support the council to accept the recommendation for a MAT, even in principle.
In all of the reports and discussions, I have yet to hear an explanation as to why the MAT is required. Has the tourism industry asked for money?
Without a clear answer to this question, the assumption is that the Town needs the 50 per cent portion they would be allocated in order to balance the budget, because other than the hope for cash, I can’t figure out what the Town gains. If that is the truth, then let’s have some transparency around this, and stop pretending it is anything else.
There is a lot of language being used in what appears to be an attempt to divide residents and members of the tourist industry. For example, we have repeatedly heard from members of this council and have seen in social media and various papers, that 18,000 residents are paying for three million tourists. I want to know where the number of three million tourists is sourced? In all my searches and by industry projections, I can find 2.7 million. How do these numbers compare to 2011, when Census Canada says 15,400 residents and 2.5 million tourists? I can find newspaper articles from 15 years ago and the number of tourists then is referenced as three million. The truth is we don’t know how many tourists came here 10 years ago and we don’t know how many came in 2019. However, if these numbers are even close, then there has been a 17 per cent growth in residents and at best an eight per cent growth in tourists. So the increase in the burden on all of NOTL’s infrastructure is higher due to residential growth rather than a massive increase in tourism. Using unverified numbers to enhance a specific point of view that suggests tourists are the source of all our problems is not contributing to a unified community. I request everyone, including the media, to use real numbers.
Has anyone ever considered looking at this differently? Is it not also valid that 2,700,000 tourists are supporting 18,000 residents?
Without tourism, how many restaurants could a town of 18,000 support? Certainly not anywhere near the more than 40 quality ones I can name without even thinking too hard.
Without tourism, would the Shaw Festival continue to exist?
Would we be able to sustain the heritage sites, both public and private, without tourists?
Who would buy and maintain historical homes if there wasn’t anything to do here?
Without tourists, our wineries could still make the wine, but would have only the LCBO to buy it, and if you’ve had any connection to the LCBO and the hoops required to jump through to get a listing in that system, there wouldn’t be anywhere near the quality or variety we currently enjoy.
The increase in property values directly benefits all residents. If people stop moving here, property values will drop.
How would a town of 18,000 people attract new residents if people didn’t come here first as a tourist and then fall in love with all we are and then move here? How many councillors were born in NOTL? How did you first learn about all that we offer, which has been created by business owners (big and small), farmers, new residents, multi-generational families, employees and our migrant worker community. If you were born here, are you suggesting that all that has developed is not something you enjoy? We are truly the envy of every community in Ontario and we are an international destination.
All of this to point out that if council believes, or wants residents to believe, that taxing overnight tourists is the way to go, then what happens to all the great things about living in NOTL when the tourists decide they don’t want to spend any more money here, and choose elsewhere, like Niagara Falls? Even a small change in overnight stays will have a significant impact. We know of some, but not how many B&Bs and other STRs will choose to close because the extra bureaucracy and costs imposed on them do not make it worth it anymore. What happens when the cost for NOTL hotel conferences gets another four per cent added? Some of these groups will go elsewhere, where the fees are less, and hotels will have no choice but to fill their rooms with regular tourists, decreasing the pool of overnight clients available to support all accommodation properties. More closures will come.
If the town needs more money, then why haven’t they reached out to the community for ideas? It is not a weakness to recognize you don’t have all the answers. I will say thank you for the fact that the fight against this tax has brought together so many members of our community. It only goes to show, that when united, these great resources can build and strengthen NOTL.
Even though I stand firmly against this tax, I would like to end on a positive note and offer this council an alternative to a MAT: the opportunity to continue to be the envy of all small communities by coming together with small business, big business, residents and all who make up the diversity of our great town. Let’s show how much can be achieved by pooling our resources, both intellectual and physical, and solving the problem of budget shortfall without penalizing the businesses that are already doing all they can to bring prosperity and uniqueness to our town.
I am pleased and excited by Coun. Clare Cameron’s amendment to table further consideration of a MAT until a comprehensive tourism strategy is developed. It is a huge step toward unifying all interested parties to see council come to the table with a decision that is forward-looking, and based on community consultation. I believe that through this process, we will find solutions that will eliminate the need for this tax.
Town should be flush with cash
I suppose we’re supposed to congratulate the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s council for holding a tax increase to 8.6 per cent from the 9.5 per cent increase discussed in December (Operating budget approved with 8.6 levy increase, The Local, January 23).
In fact, council must have worked very hard to come up with such a large tax increase, given NOTL’s growing tax base of new homes and businesses along with increasing property values. Our town should be flush with cash.
The problem here is not a lack of revenue, but a lack of leadership, driving spending that is out of control and unsustainable. I’d like to invite council to examine expenses line-by-line and come up with a plan that passes along the benefits of a growing town to its taxpayers.
If a business were run this way, it would be out of business. And if a member of a finance team presented a spending plan like this in a private business, they would be fired.
It seems like there must be some hard decisions to be made and NOTL council must do better.
Old Town resident sees first-hand ‘hollowing out’ of neighbourhoods
I would like to comment on the letter about the licensing fees for the short-term rentals (Please don’t treat B&Bs as short-term rentals, The Local, Jan. 23).
I don’t run a bed and breakfast, nor do I own a short-term rental. I live in the Old Town where I am surrounded by both. The block I live on is 44 per cent residences. The other 56% are a mix of B&Bs, cottage rentals and weekend homes.
I agree that B&Bs should not be in the same classification as the short-term rentals that are not owner occupied. In my experience, it is the “unoccupied “ rentals that cause most of the problems. They are the ones who should be paying for the extra bylaw inspectors.
I also agree that there should be some kind of signage to identify the house as a rental. I would also consider adding a contact number to the sign. The sign would let “renters” know they were staying in safe, inspected accommodations. It would also help neighbours identify illegal rentals.
I was not aware that the bylaws were different when it came to starting up a B&B versus a rental.
That needs to change. In the last three to four years, eight houses have sold in my area. Six are now rentals, one is a B&B, and one, we are not sure what is happening with it. This is the “hollowing out” of my neighbourhood.