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Changes coming to RMI program

Whistler contingent outlines resort successes from provincial funding



Whistler has made its case in Victoria for continued provincial resort funding in wake of notice that there may be changes brewing to the multi-million dollar program.

On Wednesday, April 16, the resort's mayor, Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, municipal CAO Mike Furey and Jan Jansen, general manager of resort experience, sat down for a 45-minute meeting with Shirley Bond, minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training. Also present was West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy, the deputy minister and the assistant deputy minister.

"We met because we understand that there will be some changes to the RMI program and that program is under her ministry," said Wilhelm-Morden this week.

"We just don't know what the nature of the changes will be at this point other than that there will be changes."

Whistler took the time at the meeting to explain, in part, how is has used its Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding, of which Whistler gets roughly $7 million per year from the province — money that funds Whistler's festivals and events program, money that pays for tourism projects such as improvements to the conference centre, money that funds its Village Host program.

In short, money that has come to mean a great deal to the municipality ever since it was negotiated in the lead up to the 2010 Olympics.

"It was a very fruitful meeting, and we discussed, in as much detail as we could in the 45 minutes we had with her, the RMI successes here in Whistler," added the mayor.

Those Whistler successes include last summer's banner year, in which room-night records were smashed month over month. While the non-stop sunshine played a role, the municipality had a hand, too, as it developed its Festivals, Events and Animation program to offer ongoing activities every weekend, living up to its catchphrase that "there's always something happening in Whistler."

The province was unable to respond to Pique questions this week about whether or not the RMI program was doing what it set out to do, and whether or not it would grow.

"What we really want to ensure is that we have some certainty about the funding in the future," said Wilhelm-Morden.

Whistler has attempted to do just that. In September 2012, the municipality signed a five-year Memorandum of Understanding with former Minister Pat Bell, the minster overseeing the RMI program at the time.

"However it was always contingent on the province having the appropriate level of funding," clarified the mayor.

According to the provincial website, the RMI program is linked to the following key outcomes for resort-based communities:

• increased resort activities and amenities;

• increased visitor activity;

• increased private investment;

• increased employment in the community;

• increased tourism component in the local economy;

• increased municipal tax revenue; and

• diversification of municipal tax base and revenue.

It is "an incentive based program," with the annual funding based on a formula that includes hotel tax revenues.

In the last seven years of annual RMI, the funding reached a low of $6.35 million in 2012 and a high of $7.6 million in 2008.