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New Tourism Web Site Worries Travel Agents

January 09, 1998| Capitol Alert News Service

The state Division of Tourism is using the Internet to promote vacationing in California, but its new online hotel reservation system has travel agents feeling left out in the cold.

The new Web site-- Web surfers to input the number of rooms needed, types of beds and desired price range and then search for available dates in a given city. The state is contracting with WorldRes Inc. to book the lodging accommodations and Bay Area Seating Services, which handles the credit card transactions. Fred Sater, spokesman for the state Trade and Commerce Agency's Division of Tourism, described the Web site as another marketing tool for California's $58-billion tourism industry. Indeed, some of the 300 hotels listed on the site include photos of rooms and amenities.

There's no question that tourism is vital to California's economy. According to recent figures, tourists spent $10.5 billion in Los Angeles County alone in 1996. But travel agents, who have already seen their livelihood challenged in recent years by the increased use of toll-free phone numbers for airline reservations, are concerned.

"The state should not be in the business of competing with private enterprise, in particular small businesses," said Coranne Gibson, owner of Brick Road Travel in Orange and president of the Coalition of Travel Organizations.

Sater said the site is particularly helpful for booking remote bed-and-breakfast inns, small motels and private RV parks because few travel agents do so. "We have no intention of bypassing travel agents," he said.

State Tourism Director John Poimiroo and travel industry representatives are scheduled to meet this month to discuss the issue.

Hot Bills

* Tax Break for State Credit Unions

Bottom Line: State-chartered credit unions want an exemption from franchise and income taxes. Under current law, about 190 state-chartered credit union companies are already free of many state and local taxes, but new legislation would provide an exemption similar to those enjoyed by their federal credit union counterparts as well as charitable organizations. Supporters say the measure would level the playing field with federal credit unions, which make up about 75% of credit unions in the state.

Chances: AB 1413 was held up last year in the Senate Appropriations Committee because lawmakers thought it would cost the state too much in revenue--about $1 million annually, the Franchise Tax Board estimates.

Next Step: The bill could face a vote before the Senate's budget panel now that the Legislature has reconvened.

Details: AB 1413 author Assemblyman Lou Papan (D-Millbrae) can be reached at (916) 445-8020.

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