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Tourism Whistler seals $1 million funding deal from hotel tax

RMI money goes to tourism development



Tourism Whistler's president and CEO Barrett Fisher anticipates better results from the long haul destination markets this winter, in part due to a million dollar municipal cash infusion.

The organization is forecasting a four per cent growth this winter.

"Australia and the U.K. are looking very encouraging, even though the U.K. is still in the middle of an economic slump, but we do believe there's pent up demand," said Fisher.

"It's still too early to say about the U.S. market but we are encouraged to think our biggest challenges are behind us and that it's efforts such as this partnership, investing in more marketing and sales... to see positive growth in the future."

On Tuesday Tourism Whistler and the municipality formalized their funding partnership for an annual $1 million that goes towards tourism development. The money comes from the additional hotel room tax (AHRT), which flows to Whistler from the province.

"We should have a big cheque for a million bucks," joked Mayor Ken Melamed as he shook Fisher's hand and posed for a picture at the outset of Tuesday's council meeting.

The AHRT funding accounts for more than $3 million in municipal revenue each year. It is a two per cent tax levied by the province on accommodation rentals in 50 communities in B.C. including Whistler.

Fisher thanked council for its ongoing support of Tourism Whistler.

"It's being leveraged in a way that we would not be able to do so unto ourselves," said Fisher of the funding.

In addition to the $1 million for tourism development, Tourism Whistler also gets roughly $600,000 in AHRT funding to operate the conference centre and the Whistler Golf Club.

The AHRT has become a critical funding source for the municipality paying for things such as the free village bus shuttle, the Sister City program and RCMP overtime.

This week council also set in motion plans to increase the AHRT funding to the village shuttle by $112,000 to meet the actual municipal share of the $966,000 service.

Provincial partners as well as other partners such as Tourism Whistler and the hotel association in Whistler must approve that funding.

Melamed said: "They have told us that they want input on how these funds are spent."


Hydro to give compensation for transit lands


Whistler is working on a deal with BC Hydro to get compensation for the wetlands that were lost to build the $24 million transit facility at Nesters.

"The deal is not done yet," cautioned Mayor Ken Melamed, who was instrumental in pushing for the deal.

"BC Hydro has no obligation to compensate for the loss but they understood the connections that I was making and they made the positive decision to join in to the Whistler Biodiversity Challenge. I am grateful and pleased."

He said there is a legal agreement in draft form.

The compensation package stems from the pre-Olympic development of the transit hydrogren facility at Nesters. Melamed said the draft deal is about a three to one exchange of the wetlands that were lost to transit and an area of PAN 1 forest at the end of Cut Yer Bars bike trail, near Myrtle Philip school.

The policy in Whistler's environmental strategy calls for a two to one exchange.

BC Transit located its new bus hub on the land, which was partial wetlands, after a two-year search for suitable property in Whistler.

The land is owned by BC Hydro, which like BC Transit, is another Crown corporation and is exempt from the municipality's regulations, including its policy of protecting wetlands.


Policy reset for First Nations consultation


First Nations and the municipality have been unable to meet this fall to discuss concerns over the updated Official Community Plan (OCP).

"There was a problem with timing," explained Squamish Chief Bill Williams of the delay in getting together.

On Tuesday council passed a new consultation policy, on the recommendation of the municipal solicitor, to consult with its neighbouring First Nations over the next month and invite Squamish and Lil'wat Nations to make their final submissions before Dec. 2.

Williams reiterated their concerns with the updated OCP.

"The major issue is recognition of aboriginal rights and title. Squamish Nation is a government and, as such, we have aboriginal rights and title within our traditional territory."

He hopes to see it resolved.

"It's very simple for Squamish.

"It basically means that any Crown land that is there and if there any complications with that Crown land with regards to it being cultural or spiritually sensitive to Squamish, then there's some work that has to be done to make sure that it's not affected."