Prince Albert hotels freed from collecting destination marketing levy for 2020

Herald file photo.

Prince Albert hotels will no longer have to collect the Destination Marketing Levy from guests after city council voted to suspend the requirement at a meeting on Monday.

Council voted 8-1 to suspend levy collection for the rest of 2020 due to unforeseeable hardships caused by the COVID-19 crisis.

The original motion called for council to simply waive the fee outright. However, council changed the motion at the last minute, giving hotels the option to collect the levy or not. If they do collect it, those funds must be forwarded to the city.

“We’ve had instances in the past where (the levy) was voluntarily shutdown, and some of the hotels still collected it,” Dionne said during Monday’s meeting. “We believe as a committee, if they’re going to collect it, they should pay it. If they don’t collect it, we should waive the fee for 2020.”

Dionne faced questions from Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp over how the city will enforce the new requirements. He said Prince Albert bylaw officers will perform random checks throughout the year, although he doesn’t think they’ll have many problems.

“Most hotels we know won’t collect it, so it’s not like we have to do them all,” he said. “We’ll just randomly check.”

Dionne added that the city already used similar measures when they took some hotels to court for not paying the levy. At that time, city employees would wait until guests had checked out of a hotel, then approach them and ask to look at their receipt. Dionne said the majority of hotel guests were happy to cooperate.

“Lots of people just gave us the bills and said, ‘here, we were charged. You can have the bill because we don’t think it’s right,’” Dionne explained.

Prince Albert’s Destination Marketing Fund was established in 2017 to attract provincial, national and international events to Prince Albert. The fund is supported by a levy applied to all hotels in the city, and based on their assessed value.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, seven provincial and national events scheduled for Prince Albert have been cancelled or rescheduled for 2021. That list includes the Esso Cup National Championship, which was scheduled for April 19-25, and the Saskatchewan Genealogical Society’s 2020 conference, which was scheduled for April 17-19.

An eighth event, the Provincial Field Lacrosse Championship scheduled for June 12-14, has not officially been cancelled yet, although the Prairie Gold Lacrosse league has temporarily suspended the start of their season.

The hotel levy was expected to bring in around $351,000 for the Destination Marketing Fund in 2020. The fund still has a reserve of nearly $530,000.

With files from Lucas Punkari.