Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Update:, Hotwire Pay $35M in Hotel Taxes to San Francisco

I confirmed that Expedia and Hotwire indeed paid some $35 million in hotel taxes to the City of San Francisco on Monday, a necessary step if they want to further challenge the assessment administratively and eventually in court.

I wrote about this yesterday, but now have more details.

Jim Emery, San Francisco's chief of complex litigation, told me that Expedia and Hotwire had filed a notice of appeal July 1, a step in challenging an earlier ruling that the city's pay-first rule is valid. But a judge in Los Angeles Superior Court, which is handling the San Francisco case, dismissed Expedia and Hotwire's petition July 9, Emery said.

So, no court has determined whether Expedia and Hotwire actually owe the tax. But, to challenge that assessment and to seek an $8 million refund (which no one is talking about publicly but I believe is related to an admininistrative assessment against, Expedia and Hotwire had to pay first.

Only after taking these administrative steps can they challenge the assessment in court.

Emery said the city is having discussions with Priceline ($3.5 million) and Travelocity ($2.5 million) about their tax tabs and "I expect they will be paying within a week, although we haven't closed the loop."

He said that Priceline and Travelocity previously agreed that they would go along with the Los Angeles Superior Court findings regarding San Francisco's pay-first rules.

Meanwhile, Orbitz spokesman Brian Hoyt confirmed that his company is engaged in administrative proceedings with the city over any potential tax liability.

Hoyt said Orbitz continues to be "concerned" about what he characterized as anti-tourism, anti-consumer and "discriminatory attacks through the court system."

He said cities would be "far better off" working with the online travel agencies instead of against them.

Although the OTAs dropped out of selling merchant-model hotel inventory in Columbus, Ga., and Travelocity exited the Baltimore market, Emery said he has "every expectation" that the online travel companies will continue to conduct their merchant-model hotel business in San Francisco.

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