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ASTA Seeks Clarity on NYC Tax

September 9, 2009 By: George Dooley

ASTA reports it is in talks with New York City officials to get clarity on the city’s hotel service fee tax that took effect Sepember 1. ASTA believes that all agents have a vital interest in the proper application of the New York City hotel tax and posed questions of application and interpretation. ASTA said that it was unhappy with the City’s  attempts to clarify the complex law in its statement of Audit Procedures and feared that agents would divert travelers to other destinations.

“We had understood that the Statement of Audit Procedure that was issued later in the day on September 1 would address those issues, but for the most part it did not," ASTA said. "Moreover, some of the information in the Audit Procedure cannot be understood or applied by travel agencies, creating the specter of many violations, many audits and many penalties.

“This is not a tenable situation for our industry, or the traveling public they serve, and, if not corrected, can only lead to consumers being directed to other places where the costs are clear and consumers do not risk being overcharged and agents do not risk undercharging and then facing penal consequences through enforcement actions by the City,” ASTA continued, asking for a response so that it can “disseminate accurate and usable information about this tax to [its] members.”

In a 15-point letter to the City, ASTA questioned every aspect of the tax plan that took effect September 1.

The Most Recent ASTA Advisory to Agents

Under the new tax computation procedures, whenever a travel retailer purchases New York City vacation packages from other travel sellers and then sells the packages to their own clients without knowing the cost of the hotel component of the package, there are some cases in which it must use the following method of collecting and remitting taxes - a 15-percent markup on 70 percent of the average retail rate of a similar room … to compute additional rent.

However, this is only the case if the agent is adding an additional markup or service fee. If, for example, the packager of the tour has already made proper arrangements to pay the additional markup tax which is already included  in the marked-up price quoted to a travel agent compensated solely by commission, and the tour operator will remit the tax to the City as specified in the City’s Statement of Audit Procedures, then travel agents retailing that package do not need to be concerned about the new tax law.

ASTA anticipates that tour companies will make clear to agents that the markup taxes are included in the quoted price and need not be paid by the retailer. If you do not have evidence of that practice, you must ask and retain the evidence in writing so later audits by New York City can be answered.

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