Are Columbus Hotels Losing Money Because of Lockout? - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

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Are Columbus Hotels Losing Money Because of Lockout?

By Zaneta Lowe  - bio | email 

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - The battle over hotel-motel taxes took center stage once again today in Columbus, but this time, not in a courtroom, but rather at city council.

Council members listened to a presentation from Smith Travel Research.  STR tracks hotel data across the country.  The presentation showed a few trends including the fact that Columbus seems to be fairing better than the state and the country as it relates to hotel occupancy.

It also revealed that hotels in Phenix City saw some growth in 2009, about a year after Columbus hotels could no longer be found on sites like Expedia.

After the presentation, several hoteliers, including Jack Pezold of Pezold Management and Valley Hospitality, got up to speak to council about what their hotels have experienced over the last few years.

The Consumer Watch Team went out and spoke to hotel managers, prior to the council meeting, to get answers on the same issue.

Holiday Inn Director of Sales Rhonda DePratt says not being on the sites has hurt business, especially during slow seasons.

"The very first year, in 2008 when we were de-listed it was as much as 15% revenue that we lost as a result of being de-listed," says DePratt.

Ted Cobbs is the General Manager at the Hilton Garden Inn.  He says they haven't seen much of an impact.

Cobb adds most of the travelers headed to Columbus will come regardless.

"They don't go to Expedia or Travelocity and say where should I go? I'm gonna go to Columbus. It's the business travelers, and if we're not there, they'll find another way to book."

This so called "de-listing" started a few years ago after Columbus filed a lawsuit against Expedia, Hotels and Orbitz, claiming the companies weren't submitting their fair share of tax dollars back to the city.

The suit with Orbitz has since been settled.  The exact amount has not been disclosed, but city  attorneys told me in a letter that Columbus has received a total of about $400,000 in hotel tax from such entities to date, as it relates to Expedia, Orbitz and Hotels.com.

The case against Expedia and Hotels has now been moved to federal court for the third time.

A judge will decide whether it stays or goes back to superior court, where it was previously in the hands of recently retired and embattled Judge Doug Pullen.

Right now, if you log onto Orbitz, you can find hotels in Columbus.  At hotels.com, the site re-directs you to Phenix City, and at Expedia, I simply got nothing.

Some professors at Columbus State University compiled a study in 2009 reporting the city had lost more than $18 million in direct and indirect revenue because of the lockout, including $1.4 million in hotel related taxes.

We asked for a copy and comment, but CSU declined because of a confidentiality agreement with the client who paid for the study.

Meanwhile, statistics from the city show Columbus has collected more in hotel-motel taxes since the suit was filed, up to more than $5 million last fiscal year.

Also, information from Smith Travel Research, shows occupancy rates at just over 67% for January through July of this year, up nearly 9% from the same time a year ago.

"We don't feel that it was the best move for us to make in filing the suit because we've lost much more revenue than we have taxes," adds DePratt.

"I know that the city's got the responsibility to collect taxes for me as a taxpayer, and everybody that does business in Columbus. I'll let the courts figure out what needs to happen with that next," Cobbs said.

 

 

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