Pardon us, but there's something about those California tourism advertisements.
You know the ones, you've seen them on TV. Over and over again. The Golden State,
itself sinking, sank a lot of money into them, spending $12 million last year for
ad space on national (mostly cable) television. If you've never seen them,
As pretty as these very expensive ads are, they end up being kind of annoying. Who
can say -- maybe it's the smugness. Look at us. Having fun in sexy places! Aren't
you sad you come from somewhere less fun and sexy? Okay, so, fine – destination
advertising is a tough job, and it's rare you'll please everyone. But here comes
the shocker: Guess who's paying for the ads? Tourists.
That's right – everyone picking up a rental car in the state of California is helping
fund more of these silly commercials, by way of an involuntary tourism assessment
fee, equivalent to 3.5 percent of the total rental bill.
That may not seem like much, but as frequent renters know, a lot of not much can
quickly add up to a whole lot. Typical extra costs on rental car bills at major
airports in the state run about $100 over a weekly rate of, say, $299.
Borne out of legislation passed in Sacramento in 2006, the fee has been, as one
might imagine, rather controversial. It was even the target of a class action lawsuit
that alleged illegal collusion between the California Travel and Tourism Commission
and the rental car industry.
Here's the thing – unlike some fees, which are slapped on the industry by local
authorities and met with strong opposition from the rental car industry, this one
was the result of lobbying by the industry itself, which wanted the state to allow
it to unbundle certain fees from the base rental rate.
In exchange for this favor, which allowed them to offer lower published base rates
to their customers, the industry would make a donation to the state tourism authority.
(How generous of them to offer, on behalf of us, the customer!) An appeals court
in San Francisco recently upheld a ruling that said the rental car companies and
the state had done nothing wrong. The fee is here to stay.
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