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Toronto's voluntary 'hotel tax' catching most visitors by surprise

Last Updated Mar 23, 2016 at 2:27 pm EDT

When Sue Chadsey and Debbie Snow checked out of their Toronto hotel on Monday, their receipt included a $6.19 fee they weren’t required by law to pay.

But they did it anyway.

The reason? “I didn’t realize it was voluntary,” Chadsey says.

It’s a similar realization we found in a quick survey on the streets of Toronto. The responses: “Never noticed,” or “I just pay it,” or “I don’t really look at [the bill].”

You may want to start looking.

The City of Toronto’s Destination Marketing Program involves a fee up to three percent that hotels can charge patrons to help promote the 416 on an international scale. It’s been administered in its current form since 2010. The Greater Toronto Hotel Association handles the voluntary charges and funds Destination Marketing Programs for Tourism Toronto.

The overall goal is to bring in tourism and the dollars that come along with it. In 2014 alone, the DMP reeled in more than $17.5 million for the City of Toronto.

“I think it’s a rip off,” says Snow, visiting from Ottawa.”Why am I paying for advertising? I’m here,”

But the GTHA has a different thought on that one.

“Marketing is the lifeblood of tourism,” their website states. “People won’t come to a city if they don’t know about it.”

The Tourism Industry Association of Ontario, part of the provincial government, says hotel staff must be trained to “ensure that they understand and can explain the fee, in particular that the fee is not a government tax or levy.”

Problem is, the voluntary element of this contribution may not be so widely known. And it’s unclear if hotel guests are regularly informed that this fee is voluntary.

“They should let you know at the hotel. That’s kind of slimy,” Chadsey says.

CityNews spoke with a number of Toronto hotels who say the DMP fee can be retroactively reimbursed, depending on the length of time since a patron’s stay. It’s unclear, however, if there are guidelines from the GTHA around reimbursement.

A lesson learned for some travelers, who say next time they’ll approach their receipt with a fine-toothed comb. Or perhaps look at alternate options.

“You’re going to breed a lot of ill will,” says Jim Loveday, who’s visiting the city from Vancouver. “And people will just find alternate accommodations. There’s airbnb. People hosting online. The hotels aren’t the bees knees anymore.”