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FRIDAY, MAY 25, 2007
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Tourism officials discuss increasing hotel room fee

By Paul Huggins
phuggins@decaturdaily.com 340-2395

Some Decatur-Morgan County Convention Bureau board members think it's time to increase the room occupancy tax that generates money for tourism development.

"A dollar fifty, if you look at it nationally, is nothing compared to other cities," said Andy Safiano, general manager of Holiday Inn and Suites.

"I don't see a problem raising it."

The room occupancy tax is the $1.50-per-night fee customers pay local hotels. Since its inception in 2001, the fee has raised $1.83 million.

That's helped pay for tourism development ranging from a $15,000 tourism study to the $300,000 annual appropriation (for seven years) for Ingalls Harbor.

The fee raised $361,000 last year and is 2.2 percent ahead of last year's pace through February.

Fellow board member Wade Weaver agreed with Safiano and said he travels frequently and finds many cities charge much higher lodging taxes and extra fees than Decatur.

He suggested raising it to $3.

Huntsville rates

Huntsville and Madison each charge $1 per night room occupancy fee in addition to lodging taxes.

The bureau, which receives separate lodging tax revenues from the city to promote local attractions and events that fill local hotels, can only endorse the idea of raising the daily room fee.

The Decatur-Morgan County Hospitality Association, which represents local hotels and restaurants, asked the city to impose the fee initially in hopes it would develop venues that brought in more customers. It started the fee at $1 and raised it 50 cents in 2003.

Bureau President Tami Reist said it would be up to the hospitality association to ask the City Council to raise it.

The board decided to let Safiano bring it up to the hospitality association, and if it decides to pursue an increase, the bureau board could approve a resolution in favor of it.

Julie Hill, general manager of the Microtel in Decatur, said she opposes an increase because ultimately it could mean hotels have to lower their prices a few dollars to remain competitive with other cities.

"I think ($3) would be excessive," she said. "It could price us out of the market for some events and groups."

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