|By Bill Brewer, The Knoxville
News-Sentinel, Tenn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 2, 2008 - The city of Pigeon Forge was in the spirit of giving over the holidays -- handing out citations to hotels violating a new sign ordinance that took effect Christmas Day.
An undercover Pigeon Forge police officer conducted spot checks Saturday of 13 hotels operating inside the town and issued misdemeanor citations to three for not following the new law requiring lodging properties to honor rates posted on their signs.
The ordinance was in response to complaints city officials were receiving from tourists that some hotels were advertising rates on outdoor signs that differed from rates actually assessed. The Pigeon Forge City Council approved the ordinance on second reading Dec. 10.
The issue was debated for weeks during 2007, with pro-ordinance supporters like the Pigeon Forge Hotel and Lodging Association calling the measure "good for business" because it would end misleading and false advertising by some lodging businesses.
But opponents were concerned the ordinance was restrictive and could harm business and also was unneeded because an existing state law has the same effect.
"It's a consumer protection issue for us. The city is enforcing this. It's going to force people to honor the rates they have posted," said Leon Downey, tourism director for the city of Pigeon Forge.
The three hotels cited were the Grand Inns of America at 3206 Parkway, the River Bend Inn at 2350 Parkway and the Regency Inn at 2679 Parkway, according to Downey. Officials with the hotels were unavailable for comment Tuesday.
Downey said the police department has not received any direct guest complaints, but spot checks are being held at all hotels where rate signs are posted.
The businesses cited must appear in Pigeon Forge Municipal Court on Jan. 16 and face a maximum $50 fine.
Downey said the city could not afford the negative perception some tourists were leaving with after not receiving posted room rates.
"It made visitors very unhappy. We don't want anyone to have a negative experience. We want every visitor to come back," Downey said. "Our visitors are our bread and butter. Tourism is our lifeblood, so we have to take care of them. It's about doing the right thing."
Downey said the ordinance does not apply to hotel rates posted on Internet sites because those are too difficult to monitor locally and Web sites tend to police themselves.
The city of Pigeon Forge is encouraging any visitor who is refused a room at the rate posted on a sign at the lodging business to call the Pigeon Forge Police Department.
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