America’s taxing destinations: Cities that sock it to travelers

Which American cities impose the highest discriminatory travel taxes on lodging, car rentals, and meals? A new survey by EconFirst Associates and the NBTA Foundation reveals the answers, and you probably won’t guess the winner — I mean, loser.

Did you say Portland, Ore.? If you did, it’s either a lucky guess, or you get around, or you live there. P-Town’s discriminatory taxes against travelers added up to a whopping $21.55 a night. (Discriminatory taxes are calculated by excluding general sales taxes to count only taxes that target car rentals, hotel stays and meals.)

Here’s the full list:

1. Portland ($21.55)
2. Boston ($21.52)
3. Minneapolis ($16.51)
4. Indianapolis ($15.89)
5. New York ($15.29)
6. Washington ($14.55)
7. Kansas City ($14.53)
8. Chicago ($14.22)
9. Charlotte ($13.70)
10. Philadelphia ($13.61)

The average discriminatory tax in the top 50 markets was $10.42 a night. Oddly, when it comes to overall tax burden — a figure that includes general sales taxes — Portland ranks as the third least-expensive city. Go figure.

Michael McCormick, director of the National Business Travel Association, says enough is enough.

It is unacceptable that visitors, whose general tax dollars can help to keep a community afloat in difficult economic times, are forced to pay so much more taxes and fees to fund projects unrelated to the services they purchase.

On average, the fees targeting travel services increase the tax burden by more than half, and in the worst cases, by up to 144 percent. Rest assured, companies are taking notice of these unfair burdens when determining how and where to spend their business travel, meetings and events dollars.

I agree. This is worse than taxation without representation, it is discriminatory taxation without representation.

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Tourism authorities are acting as if we’re piggybanks without choices in where we visit. Nothing could be further from the truth. Travelers are not their personal ATM machines, and we do have a choice.

After this report, we may well be more inclined to exercise it.

Update (3 p.m.): Via Twitter follower user47: “Surprised Kansas City is only ranked 7th. This is a 100% authentic Avis receipt. Taxes and fees DOUBLED the price.

Unbelievable.

(Photo: Alan Cleaver/Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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