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Mayoral candidates will involve hotels in RMI allocation

Two candidates want a hotel tax advisory board; incumbent welcomes consultation

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October 27, 2011

Three of Whistler's mayoral candidates welcome an increased role for the hotel industry in deciding how to allocate revenue from the Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) program.

Candidates Ralph Forsyth, Ken Melamed and Nancy Wilhelm-Morden met with the Hotel Association of Whistler last week, an organization that represents hotel properties such as the Pan Pacific and the Four Seasons, and all committed to giving the hotels more of a say in how funds gathered through RMI are divvied out.

Jim Douglas, the chair of the Hotel Association and general manager of Whistler's Pan Pacific hotel properties, said that hotels have not been involved in allocating RMI money in the past, despite the fact the program's revenues come from being charged on hotel nights.

"It's not necessarily to the distribution specifically of RMI, it is specifically the coordinator efforts of economic development," he said. "We believe members of the hotel association have some expertise and resources to bring to bear, and it's not just RMI money, it's economic development as a whole.

"The hotel association does not want to have an approval process, does not want to control anything, we just want to be around the table and participate."

Incumbent Mayor Ken Melamed said the plan is to follow a negotiated agreement reached recently by Tourism Whistler and the Resort Municipality of Whistler, as well as a council-adopted policy on consultation that sets up a structured process for the hotels to provide their input when the RMOW applies to the province for RMI money.

"We have agreed to consult on the development of the submission to the province and I am personally committed to ongoing evaluation of the program," he said. "The Whistler philosophy is to live in the question, 'how can we do this better?'"

Melamed was also asked alongside the other candidates what he would do as mayor to boost occupancy in Whistler. Pique reported two weeks ago that hotels are seeing their lowest occupancies in the past four years, down to 64.8 per cent from 73.1 per cent in the Olympic year and down from 72.4 per cent in 2009, the recession year.

Melamed said that it is important for resort operators to take responsibility in their "core areas of competency." Tourism Whistler, he said, has the primary responsibility for putting "heads in beds."

"The role of the RMOW in the partnership is to provide support where and when needed consistent with the community defined goals and objectives," he said.

"This year we have increased TW's marketing budget by $1 million with a signed agreement between Tourism Whistler (with strong representation from the Hotel Association of Whistler) and RMOW; injected $2.9 million into Festivals, Events and Animation (FE&A) and completed an analysis of Post Secondary Education opportunities."

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