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What will new occupancy taxes fund?

March 05, 2018 10:36 PM

It will cost you more to rent a room, camp or condo online. Hotels and bed and breakfasts have been lobbying local counties to make private rentals pay an occupancy tax too.  

News10NBC took a closer look at who will ultimately benefit from the extra cash that's generated.  

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Some of those who own rentals in the Finger Lakes are concerned. They argue that for every dollar a visitor pays for accommodations, it's one less they dollar they spend in the economy.

Eric Moon owns a cabin in Ontario County that he rents out.  He hasn't had to collect tax but that soon may change. 
 
"In the tourism business, we are 100% dependent on discretionary income which is becoming more difficult for people to come by," said Moon, who owns The Quiet Place. 

News10NBC found out that Ontario County wants to extend its 3% occupancy tax for hotels and bed and breakfasts, to private rentals of any size.  The money collected will go almost entirely to Ontario County's tourism organization, known as the Finger Lakes Visitors Connection. 
 
"I think the money that is going to fund Ontario County tourism is very generous," Moon said. "I don't know how they spend over a million tax dollars a year doing what they do.  They go to conferences and they go to seminars and they travel here and there and elsewhere, and print lots of information that nobody uses because they got these cell phones."
 
The communications director at the visitors connection was away at a conference when News10NBC called, but we spoke with their executive director.

"Our job is to bring people in the area," said Valarie Knoblauch, President of Finger Lakes Visitors Connection. "Our job is not to bring them to your specific website or place of business.  The measure is, are we bringing people into the area."

Jennifer Lewke: "How do you measure your success?"
Valarie Knoblauch: "We measure our success. One of the things I'm most proud of is we are a performance-based budget because our actions are based on occupancy tax and investment our goal is to make it higher."

That also seems to be the goal of a half dozen other Finger Lakes tourism groups, some of which get hundreds of thousands in taxpayer money, too.  

Valarie Knoblauch: "We don't think of them as competitors. We think every time anybody hears the word Finger Lakes, we have the potential of getting them over to our area."
Jennifer Lewke: "But when you look at the sites, a lot of you are offering the same thing to travelers."
Valarie Knoblauch: "the difference is the audiences we're going after."
 
It's likely that occupancy tax will be expanded in Ontario County in the coming months.  

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