By Bob Barnett
Whistler’s long awaited “financial tools” finally materialized Saturday, with an announcement by Premier Gordon Campbell that 13 municipalities are eligible for an estimated $10 million in provincial hotel room tax.
However, rather than being a direct stream of revenue for municipalities dependent on tourism, the “revenue-sharing strategy” will see the province allocate money for specific tourism related projects in those municipalities. The projects could include such things as street or park improvements, festivals or amenities to increase all-season resort opportunities.
“This new revenue-sharing strategy is a direct result of the work done by the B.C. Resort Task Force in consulting with resort communities and operators,” said Campbell, speaking at the B.C. Chamber of Commerce’s annual general meeting in Invermere. “It’s one more tool we can give resort communities to unleash their vision for becoming world-class tourism destinations.”
The 13 municipalities currently eligible to enter into agreements are: Fernie, Golden, Harrison Hot Springs, Invermere, Kimberley, Osoyoos, Radium Hot Springs, Revelstoke, Rossland, Tofino, Ucluelet, Valemount and Whistler.
To be eligible, municipalities must have economies that are strongly oriented to tourism, which means that the per capita amount of tourist-based accommodation must be 2.5 times the provincial average and the total amount should be at least two-thirds of the average. A community is also eligible if they are defined as a “mountain resort municipality” under the Mountain Resort Associations Act. Currently Whistler is the only municipality in B.C. with that designation.
Communities must also take advantage of their current authority to impose an additional two per cent hotel room tax and enter into a five-year results-based tourism development agreement that sets out what will be achieved through revenue sharing.
What exactly the new revenue-sharing strategy will mean for Whistler is expected to be discussed at tonight’s council meeting.
“Local governments are important as economic drivers and facilitators of tourism and resort opportunities,” said Community Services Minister Ida Chong. “Resort communities are unique in that they may have limited financing options. With these additional funds, municipalities can provide better amenities for visitors and the community.”
In 2003, the Premier's B.C. Resort Task Force was formed to enhance resort development in British Columbia through the identification and elimination of the barriers to resort development and expansion. The task force included representatives from local government, First Nations, the resort industry, and 11 provincial agencies and ministries. The Province is implementing the initiatives outlined in the B.C. Resort Strategy and Action Plan that resulted from the task force's work to provide a more favourable environment for resort development and expansion in B.C.