Tourism industry gets shot in arm

In its first order of business after delivering the throne speech Wednesday, the provincial government passed legislation aimed at combating a downturn in the economy in Toronto—and the tourism industry as a whole.
The legislation—Bill 1 (the SARS Assistance and Recovery Strategy Act)—was passed in a single sitting Wednesday, receiving first, second, and third reading in the same day.
The act received royal assent and became law yesterday.
“[This legislation] supports a goal all members share—to overcome the SARS outbreak and its farreaching impact on our province,” Premier Ernie Eves said in a press release.
Three of four aspects of the act address the “first-of-its-kind health emergency” that SARS placed on southern Ontario as far back as late March.
Bill 1 protects the jobs of people affected by SARS-related illness, quarantine, or isolation. It also makes improvements to the Emergency Management Act.
It also strengthens the powers of the government and health workers to help curb the spread of such an infectious disease—including the detention of individuals violating isolation orders and the power to take possession of a premises as an isolation facility for up to two years.
But the most interesting aspect of the bill comes in the form of a temporary “sales tax holiday” for all of Ontario accommodation and entertainment providers from May 1 to Sept. 30, 2003.
The bill exempts all accommodation stays (hotels, motels, tourist homes, etc.), as well as admission to places of entertainment (amusement parks, sporting events, circuses, exhibitions open to the general public like boat shows, movies, etc.), from the provincial retail sales tax (RST).
Refunds for RST paid in error will be made available, with details coming next week.
Transient accommodation normally is taxed at a rate of five percent and admission charges to view indoor and outdoor performances and entertainment at a rate of 10 percent.
In both cases, the RST will be exempt from charge.
Combination packages where meals are sold with accommodations for one price, like with American and modified American plans, the RST also will be exempt.
Where meals and admissions are provided as a package, such as with dinner theatres, the RST of eight percent still will apply to the meal portion if the meal is more than $4 and is charged separately from the admission charge.
“As a lodge owner, the exemption is a really good shot-in-the-arm for the tourism industry,” said Cathe Hoszowski, who runs a lodge on Clearwater Lake and is the PC candidate for the Kenora- Rainy River riding for the upcoming provincial election.
“The tourism industry, as a whole, has had some fallout from the SARS scare and from the war in Iraq,” she noted, adding it was a very positive thing to come out of the throne speech.
“[The timing is right] as we are just starting the tourism season.”^“I don’t know that it will have a great impact,” said Paul Noonan, co-owner of La Place Rendez-Vous here. “By itself, it won’t cause any great windfall. [But] any little thing like that is a positive thing, every little bit helps.
“It will depend on how good of a job the government does running a promotional campaign,” he added.
“I assume they’re going to go along that line.
“If [Americans] are not aware of it, then it won’t impact [business],” Noonan remarked. “Anything the American public sees as a proactive measure is a good thing.”^The recent upswing of the loonie vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar also could become a concern to the tourism industry, among others.
“I don’t think in the short-term it will affect us,” Noonan said. “Two or three cents won’t change [American] plans [to vacation in Canada].
“If it moves to an 80-cent dollar, it may affect next year,” he warned.