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RMOW to increase hotel tax engagement

Whistler hotel managers praise hotel tax extension



The Resort Municipality of Whistler is looking to increase engagement with the accommodation sector over hotel-tax spending as the province readies to formally announce an extension of the program.

Premier Gordon Campbell said in his address to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) two weeks ago that the province would extend the Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI), a program designed to provide resort communities with finance, development and business promotion tools to enhance B.C.'s resort sector.

One of the tools to enhance tourism is the Resort Municipality Tax Transfer Program, which up until the HST was implemented gave between one per cent and four per cent of the eight per cent Provincial Hotel Room Tax (HRT) generated within a resort area back to that community, to be put towards resort infrastructure and services.

Roger Soane, general manager of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler and the chair of the Tourism Whistler board, said in an interview that the RMOW is looking into instituting a kind of roundtable that will help it increase engagement with bodies that generate the hotel tax.

"I think there is, no formal yes or no," he said. "I don't think there's been enough (consultation) in the past. I think the RMOW have recognized that, I'm looking forward to the future where we can get involved in the consultation and sit around a table and talk about the priorities for the resort."

The RMOW, for its part, didn't confirm whether a formal roundtable would be set up but Administrator Bill Barratt said through a spokesperson that the municipality is looking to maintain consultation on hotel tax spending with its partners.

"The RMOW always looks to partner for success and as we move forward with our planning we will engage in consultation with our partners," Barratt said in an e-mail. "This includes engaging them on discussions around AHRT and RMI funding."

Speaking about the tax itself, Soane said he's happy it's being extended, despite the fact it's a tax leveled against his own customers.

"I'm a great believer in it," he said. "I think we need to have the money to market the destination and when it comes back now, how it's used is something that obviously has to be scrutinized, but I think in a way that having a tax that comes back to the industry to help promote it is a good way to go."

Jim Douglas, general manager of the Pan Pacific Whistler Mountainside and Pan Pacific Village Centre Whistler hotels, echoed Soane's feelings. He said the hotel community around Whistler was very supportive of the tax because it provides money to help market the resort to destination visitors.

"There's a lot of hotel people that support that versus marketing in the short-haul market, because we can all market in the short-haul market," Douglas said. "I think the Resort Municipality of Whistler and Tourism Whistler have been working hard to ensure there's consultation and the hotel community created a hotel association a few years ago so we can participate as well."

What is certain is that tourism money is coming back to the municipality; what isn't certain is precisely the form the new program will take. With the implementation of HST, the eight per cent hotel tax has been eliminated, replaced by the sales tax which adds seven per cent to the GST that was already applied to room rates.

In Whistler and several other municipalities there's also an extra two per cent tax that's levied above the HST.

The RMOW has in the past put money from the hotel tax towards initiatives including the Village Host program, the Whistler Arts Council and the Whistler Film Festival. It has also put the money towards the Visitor Info Centre, communications and RCMP overtime.

A 2009 Statement of Revenues, Expenditures and Account Balance shows that the greatest amount of hotel tax revenue was spent on "Enhanced/Additional Village Services.