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RMI extended to 2018, but future uncertain

New tourism minister Lisa Beare hopes to be champion for industry



When B.C.'s new provincial government was sworn in on July 18, one change in particular may have stood out to Whistlerites.

The tourism file was shifted from the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training to one now called the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture.

According to the provincial government, the change was a natural one, as tourism, arts, culture and sport are part of what makes the province a vibrant and attractive place to visit.

But the economic importance of tourism is not lost on new cabinet member Lisa Beare, NDP MLA for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows and now Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture.

"Tourism is a major part of B.C.'s economy," Beare said in an Aug. 10 interview. "It brings people from around the world to our province, it brings in jobs and economic growth to our communities. In fact, in 2015 alone, the province's tourism industry contributed more than $7 billion to the province's GDP, and it employs 127,000 British Columbians... it's very important to the province."

The big question for the Resort Municipality of Whistler — and B.C.'s 13 other Resort Municipality communities — is the fate of Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding.

The program, designed to grow tourism in the province, was recently extended to March 31, 2018.

"I've already started engaging with staff in the ministry to discuss the programs and services that the ministry provides to British Columbians, and that includes the RMI funding program," Beare said, noting that the program has doled out more than $108 million in funding since 2006.

"I'm going to be looking forward to talking to the resort municipality stakeholders in the coming months about the funding program to get a sense of how they view the program and what the future is for it."

Beare said the province's new government is busy taking first steps towards fulfilling its pledges to voters, but she's already reached out to many tourism industry stakeholders in the province directly.

"Right now our top priority is the wildfires that are impacting our province ... and it's impacting our tourism operators during what is supposed to be a busy revenue season for them," she said. "Our main commitment right now is working with the operators and businesses throughout the province that are impacted by the wildfires to assist them, save as much of the tourism season as possible, and then we'll be taking further steps from there."

Beare's first chance to meet with local and regional officials will likely come at the Union of BC Municipalities convention in September — both the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and Village of Pemberton have said they'll be raising the issue of enhancing tourism infrastructure (like better cycling lanes, road improvements and more park rangers) at the convention.

The NDP committed to hiring additional park rangers and conservation officers during its election campaign.

"I'm really looking forward to being a champion for the industry," Beare said.

"That's something that, when I've spoken to the stakeholders over the past weeks, that they are most excited about: having someone whose mandate directly relates to championing tourism as a job creator in B.C., and someone who can work to expand the tourism marketing efforts internationally, while also ensuring that B.C.'s tourism sector is represented on all trade missions."


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