Village first to impose 4% tax on booming hotel industry

An official grand opening was held at the Insignia Hotel in Sarnia last week, part of a recent investment surge in the local hotel industry. Submitted Photo

Point Edward has become the first municipality in Lambton County to approve a 4% municipal accommodation tax, or MAT, on guests staying in hotels, motels and Airbnbs.

The money will help pay for tourism promotion and securing more big events like this summer’s Tall Ships Festival, says Point Edward Mayor Bev Hand.

Hand is also vice-president of Tourism Sarnia-Lambton (TSL), the organization tasked with marketing the area and attracting conferences and sports events.

“Unfortunately, we have to find creative ways to raise money,” she said.

Point Edward is home to half of Sarnia-Lambton’s hotel rooms and could get $600,000 a year from the hotel user tax when it kicks in this January.

Village council voted unanimously to support the 4% tax and dedicate half the revenue to TSL, and half to cover the pricey submission fees required when bidding on large events in Point Edward.

“All the hoteliers here have said they were expecting this to happen,” Hand said. “All our hotels are chains that collect MAT tax elsewhere.”

About 40 Ontario municipalities already have a MAT tax, she said.

“So it’s not like we’re reinventing the wheel. Port Huron already charges a 5% hotel tax. I think most people are used to it,” Hand said.

Sarnia council is expected to consider a MAT tax later this month.

Meanwhile, the local hotel industry appears to be booming with major new construction and renovations to existing properties in Point Edward and Sarnia.

In September, Vrancor Hospitality Corp. opened a new, 115-room Holiday Inn Express on Venetian Boulevard in Point Edward. The six-storey hotel has an indoor pool and created about 22 jobs.

Vrancor also owns the Hampton Inn by Hilton that opened in 2016 on the same hotel strip. The 95-room hotel also has six storeys and a pool.

Two years ago, Vrancor purchased the Best Western Plus Guildwood Inn next door to the Holiday Inn Express, and invested in an upgrade.

Closer to the Blue Water Bridge, the former Holiday Inn is due for a multi-million dollar renovation scheduled to get under way in the New Year. After 50 years, the hotel brand has changed to Sunbridge Hotel and Conference Centre under the Sunray Group.

General Manager Geoff Eisenbraun said the hotel will remain Sunbridge during the renovations next year and then become a Marriott property. The 216-room hotel will remain open while it undergoes a complete overhaul inside and out. Ultimately, the plan is to rename it Four Points by Sheraton.

The Sunray Group is also responsible for substantial renovations at the Comfort Inn on Mara Street.

In Sarnia, the Insignia Hotel opened in September after a complete makeover from its old Drawbridge Inn days.

The $18-million renovation took two years and resulted in 84 rooms, the Legacy Restaurant and Regner’s Tudor Lounge, named for the man who built The Drawbridge.

The Insignia Hotel on Christina Street is owned by Oakville businessman Malvinder Singh, who bought the property in 2015. About 50 jobs were created when the Insignia opened.

All of Sarnia-Lambton’s hotels could potentially charge the 4% MAT tax after all 11 municipalities consider the county’s proposal.

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