Small print won’t stop most folks

Published 12:04 am Sunday, June 1, 2008

My finger hovered over the computer’s mouse button last week in a rare “slow down” moment.

I’d just plugged in a bunch of standard information into a Web site to secure a hotel room for an upcoming business trip.

Arrival date.

Email newsletter signup

One adult.


No preference on bed size.

Checkout date.

Picked the lowest rate and was about to hit the “submit” button when a rare occurrence happened: I read the small print at the bottom of the page.

Under a small, discrete heading of “Tax & Service Charges” details of a 13-percent room tax were subtly revealed.

Now what’s interesting is that I’ve stayed at this same hotel at least a dozen times on business in the last several years and not once have I ever stopped to consider the tax.

But last week was different because I’d been hearing from readers about the proposed $2 per night hotel assessment tax, and I’d driven past several of the illegally posted signs promoting passage of the tax.

First, calling the proposal a “hotel assessment fee” is dumb. Natchez voters are smart enough to know that whatever you call it, the $2 “fee” is really a $2 “tax.”

If you’re highly opposed to any and all taxes, you should probably vote no on the tax proposal on Tuesday’s City of Natchez general election.

But if you’re a least a bit more intelligent than all of those folks who just adamantly say, “No taxes, ever” then trying to learn about the tax is in order before Tuesday’s vote.

In simple terms, the $2 per bed, per night tax would be dedicated to marketing Natchez. That makes sense as it utilizes the visitors who are already coming to help generate marketing funds to bring more folks here.

The tax is estimated to generate approximately $400,000 in new marketing funds. Amazingly that would increase the current marketing budget to five times its current level.

The city’s marketing budget is woefully under-funded. A big cause is previous administrations funneled money originally earmarked to promote tourism to fund debt instead.

The legislation authorizing the proposed hotel tax is clear that funds should be used for marketing and even outlines a committee that will oversee the spending.

Not having that committee’s make-up picked early in the lobbying phase was a mistake.

Worse, up until just a few days ago tourism tax proponents didn’t seem to have a good plan for how, exactly, they’d spend all the new money.

That was a mistake, too.

Having both a plan and knowing the people who will make spending decisions would have taken away some risk in the minds of the voters.

So the fact that the proponents of the marketing tax have done a poor job of marketing, coupled with the city’s track record to figuring out a way to dip into earmarked funds whenever they want to scares the heck out of me.

But those mistakes and concerns don’t make the need to market Natchez better go away. It just makes passing the tax more difficult.

Many local businesses have larger marketing budgets than the current city marketing budget and that’s pretty sad.

Natchez needs the new tax to help promote more tourism. And the best part is that the tax doesn’t “cost” many locals as it only hits hotel patrons.

Fortunately most travelers don’t think twice about clicking the “submit” button on a reservation without reading the small print.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or