Some North Fork motel owners oppose guest fee

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said he’s received an overwhelming response from hotel, motel and bed-and-breakfast owners who oppose the proposed Peconic Tourism Marketing District meant to generate tourism promotion funds in the five East End towns.

“I cannot speak for the rest of the board but, to me, this latest proposal is DOA,” he said in an email last Friday.

Brian Deluca, who heads the East End Tourism Alliance and is general manager of Atlantis Holdings, which owns the Long Island Aquarium and Hyatt Hotel in Riverhead, said the Peconic Tourism Marketing District’s main focus would be transportation — finding and funding ways to bring visitors from place to place. It would work by collecting a percentage or fixed amount — suggested at $1 — for each overnight stay at a hotel, motel, B&B or other lodging business.

The formation of the marketing district would first require authorization from the state Legislature. Each participating town would then have to approve a home rule message.

Mr. Russell said the Town Board asked the North Fork Promotion Council to reach out to the industry as a whole to gauge support for the idea, which he says they did not. At a work session last month, the Town Board members said they would not comment on legislation without hearing from lodging owners first.

“We asked the NFPC several times in the past to reach out to the whole industry to get a measure of support,” Mr. Russell said.

“The representatives said they did. Clearly they didn’t. The whole original purpose of the NFPC was to create a consortium of chambers and businesses to promote tourism in the belief that it will benefit all. To an extent, it has worked, but when the decision-makers start to lobby for projects that many of the very members don’t support, you wonder what their ultimate goals are.”

Proponents of the marketing district have been in touch with Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) about drafting legislation at the state level. Mr. Thiele said Monday he would be reluctant to proceed with without all five towns participating.

Mr. LaValle agrees, according spokesperson Greg Blower, who said the senator believes that local control in decision-making is essential.

Mr. Russell said he does not think Southold should be referenced in legislation “unless there’s authority to do so.”

“I don’t see any [authority] without industry support,” he said

Mr. Deluca said marketing district backers first wanted input from the towns on what they would and wouldn’t want to see in the state legislation. They planned to reach out to industry members on a larger scale once it was clear at the state level that formation of a tourism marketing district was authorized.

One Southold B&B owner who asked not to be named said she doesn’t think a marketing district alone could solve traffic problems. She said she thinks it is unfair for the burden to fall entirely on lodging and feels there is a lack of clarity on how the funds would be collected.

The North Fork is too small to support “mass” tourism, the B&B owner said.

She and another lodging owner pointed out that the North Fork has different needs and capacity from Riverhead Town, which has larger hotels.

The Town Board also received an anonymous letter opposing the idea from a “Lodging Owner on the North Fork” who operates a “long-term lodging establishment.”

In the letter, the writer said it is “ridiculous” that the proposed fee would only apply to lodging and not restaurants, wineries and other businesses that cater to North Fork visitors.

Tourists bringing car traffic stay at chain hotels in Riverhead, the writer said.

Referring to the idea of charging $1 more per overnight stay, the writer also said that money could add up and be used for room improvements instead.

When told about the proposal, Sue Halladay, manager at Jamesport Bay Suites in South Jamesport, said she would be up for the idea if it creates more needed transportation options on the North Fork.

“People who stay at the hotels would be loving transportation and not drinking and driving on the weekends,” she said.

Supervisors in the four other East End towns that could participate — Riverhead, Southampton, East Hampton and Shelter Island — have shown interest in the marketing district and provided input, Mr. Deluca said.

Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said Monday that she supports the idea, although there were some questions about the by-laws involved with the proposal.

“We’re in support of it as it’s being developed,” Ms. Jens-Smith said. “It’s only a dollar tax on the hotel room so it’s not big burden but certainly would help the tourism industry out here to be self-sustaining.”

[email protected]