PC critic says province “gouging” tourism operators
© Guardian photo by Jim Day
Matthew Jelley at his Shining Waters Family Fun Park in Cavendish
Both the Opposition and some P.E.I. tourism operators are slamming increases to licences and inspection fees for tourism operators.
Cabinet recently approved steep increases to fees charged to tourism accommodations’ owners for accreditation as licensed establishments and for inspections.
Opposition tourism critic James Aylward said he believes this move is ‘gouging’ P.E.I. tourism operators.
“What (government) is doing is taking money directly out of the operators’ pockets, which they could be re-investing into their properties,” Aylward said.
“He’s gouging Islanders, he’s gouging tourism operators and we don’t just see it in tourism, we see it in every department across government.”
Beginning this fall, roofed accommodations will pay $50-$100 more for licences, depending on the number of units it houses. Smaller accommodations will pay $150, up from $100, and this will increase to $200 by 2015.
Motels and hotels with more than five units, which now pay $150 plus $7 per room, will pay $100 more this year and this will go up to $300 by 2015 with an additional $8.50 per room.
Campgrounds will also see incremental increases in licence fees of $35 to $150 over the next three years, depending on the number of sites it hosts.
For inspections, new operators will also have to pay $250- — a 233 per cent increase over the current cost. And operators who need a re-inspection will have to pay a new $250 fee for this service, which currently costs nothing.
Matthew Jelley, president of the Cavendish Beaches and the Dune Shores Tourism Association, says there have been growing concerns in the industry about a rise in the number of tourism accommodations operating without a licence.
The fee increases for licences could make this problem worse, Jelley said.
“You don’t need to have a masters degree to realize that’s going to have an opposite effect (to encouraging licensing) and drive operators underground, especially operators on the fringe that need the inspections the most.”
Jelley also said operators have been frustrated over the lack of enforcement by the licensing agency in dealing with problematic properties.
“The fees are basically doubling over night, it seems like such a large increase and at the end of the day people want to see value for that money,” Jelley said.
“Over the past number of years there has been a lack of strong action by the inspection group to shut down some of the poorer quality institutions.”
The fees are collected by Quality Tourism Services (QTS), a non-profit organization that offers accreditation and performs inspections of P.E.I. tourism accommodations.
Tourism Minister Robert Henderson said that organization, as well as the Tourism Industry Association, requested the fee increase because QTS was operating on a deficit.
“Their mandate is to deliver those services in a cost-neutral manner,” Henderson said.
“We need these standards and we need to make sure those services are in place so I took it to cabinet to authorize those fee increases… this is all designed for the industry to protect itself so that when visitors come to Prince Edward Island there’s some standard and they get what they expected to receive.”
Henderson said he understands that any increase in fees is not going to be popular but felt “ultimately it’s important that these standards be met and that there’s an organization out there to provide an evaluation of those standards.”
He also said the HST will provide tourism operators with some financial relief when it is implemented next spring.
But Jelley said government should be careful when speaking of the HST as a financial panacea for tourism operators at a time when fees all across government are going up.
“If all of those benefits (of the HST) are clawed back by increased taxes and increased fees, it’s going to have very little net positive effect on the industry over a longer time.”