I recently travelled to Niagara Falls for a work convention. As usual, the falls were spectacular to view; the hotel was tired but adequate and the food was nice - outstanding only in price. Speaking of price, I discovered something that I couldn’t wait to share. On my travels, it was called PF, however it goes by any one of a number of acronyms — PF; DMP; DMF; or TIF. No these are not part of the SMS language or textese. They do follow the same format of abbreviations commonly used with mobile app texting though. If you see any of these on your bill — hold the phone! Best you know what you’re paying for . . . or not.
PF — promotion fee
DMP — destination marketing program DMF — destination marketing fee
TIF — tourism improvement fee
I kid you not. So many acronyms meaning the same thing — a marketing fee business in the tourist district are legally allowed to charge. The kicker? We, the consumers are legally allowed to refuse paying it — if we notice it.
The plot thickens. It’s like trying to navigate through pea soup.
This development and marketing fee has been around since 2004. Ontario’s Ministry of Tourism gave municipalities permission to generate additional revenue by placing an extra charge — generally three per cent — on bills. That’s about it for direction. Depending on the venue the PF is anywhere between 3 and 8%. Might as well vary the menu if no one’s gonna review it.
The PF is like trying to explain to someone you’re ordering Caesar salad, but it will contain whatever the chef decides to put in it. So . . . Caesar salad in name only. If nothing else, it’s creative.
Here’s how it works. Businesses charge this ‘fee’; they are encouraged to be transparent about it and to forward the amount to a non-profit organization that would spend it on tourism promotion and development. Right. So kids . . . I’m baking two dozen cookies; putting them on the counter and I’m going to encourage you not to eat them. You can touch them if you gather them up and then go distribute them to everyone else in the neighbourhood. Make sure you don’t take any for yourself.
In 2008, the province’s Consumer Protection Branch issued a warning to Niagara Falls businesses over complaints they were charging the fee and simply keeping the money. Honey — did you eat any cookies? Nope. I gave them all away.
When CBC's Marketplace filmed an episode on the fee in Niagara Falls the question was asked, ‘so why charge a fee that angers visitors so much?’ The answer from the tourist industry: Because Niagara Falls wouldn’t look the same without it.
Fireworks. Infrastructure. Special Events. The Winter Festival of Lights. Wow. I can only summize the non-profits in Niagara Falls spend their money way differently than they do in the Royal City.
Niagara Falls in particular has perfected the elusiveness of the PF. I discovered it on our rather pricey dinner receipt quite by accident. Reviewing the bill to confirm everything we consumed and nothing we didn’t was on the bill. There is was — the PF. After a quick Google search, I discovered this was indeed a fee that is not mandatory and I could opt out of paying it. Up to this point, no one had said anything about any fee.
After discovering the PF line on my receipt, I scanned receipts from earlier in the day at two other stops we had made. Yup. The PF was there on both and we paid it — oblivious to its’ meaning. Never again.
The fee looks just like a tax on your bill. BTW — there is HST charged on the PF. My blood is starting to boil just thinking about it and right now my fingers want to type another acronym.
The intriguing part — it’s always included, but it’s voluntary. No one ever bothers to mention that. Okay Google — you say I just have to politely ask to have it removed from my bill, so I did . . . and it was, with an apology. We had one classy waiter.
Alerted to the PF, I saw it posted on my hotel receipt that was slid under my door. I made my way down to the front desk to politely request the PF be removed. My reception by the receptionist wasn’t warm and fuzzy. She explained I already had a corporate discount and she was not to remove the PF from my bill. I thank my previous employers for the communication training I had received and knew to just keep my mouth shut. She looked up at me and grudgingly agreed to take it off without me saying another word. Can you spell 'voluntary'? Watching for the PF and having it removed from my charges saved almost $15 on my expense report.
To be fair, not all businesses in Niagara Falls are charging this fee, after all — honesty is voluntary. If you’re visiting Niagara Falls, don’t be distracted by the scenery and get sucked into the PF. You can have it removed, but you have to ask.
Laura Jean — my frequent NF touring sister — this one’s for you. You’re welcome.
Nancy Revie is a Guelph author, motivational speaker, fitness instructor and entertainer. Visit Nancy at www.nancyrevie.com. Her column appears every other week.