By Loreth Beswetherick Tourism Whistler’s massive fee hikes for corporate supporters — up almost 2,000 per cent in some cases — could cost the organization members. Business owners hit with the increases without notice last month were offered an option of a $300 reduced package of limited benefits but some are so angry with the sudden hike they are considering severing their resort association ties altogether. Some merchants who paid a flat $300 for membership last year were billed up to $6,000 and more this year depending on the nature of their businesses and, in some cases, square footage. They are not located on resort lands and those not in the accommodation sector feel there is scant benefit to being a member of the resort association. Tourism Whistler had about 200 corporate supporters in 1999 but many have not yet coughed up the increased membership fees for this year. The association’s media relations co-ordinator Laura Street said corporate supporters are calling in wanting to discuss their options. She said it will be another month before Tourism Whistler will have a clear idea of how many are opting for the full benefit or reduced package, or dropping out altogether. "People don’t usually sign up and pay up in January anyways but given this particular year, a lot of them are calling in to discuss their options and make sure they understand the benefits." The change in rate structure was made in the interests of equity, said Tourism Whistler President Suzanne Denbak. Any business located on resort lands is compelled to be a member of the resort association but other businesses could voluntarily sign up as corporate supporters for a flat $300. Those corporate supporters, said Denbak, enjoyed almost all the benefits of other members at a fraction of the cost. "If as a corporate supporter you receive 90 per cent of the benefits a member receives you should pay 90 per cent of the fee a member would. Historically that has not occurred so we structured a program where essentially you now pay for the benefits you receive," said Denbak. "It’s an attempt to bring our corporate supporters in line with the member fee structure," she said. Although the rates have been brought in line, a corporate supporter who opts to pay the increased fees still does not get voting rights along with the full benefit package that includes: a web site listing; access to statistical data; lists of upcoming media visits; listing in promotional pieces — if applicable; listing in the members’ directory; use of central reservations and activity centre services on a commission basis; opportunity to participate in co-op advertising programs as outlined by tourism Whistler; a member mail box; access to a selection or reports, press releases, summaries and newsletters; discounts on promotional videos; access to a medical and dental plan for small businesses; Grand & Toy discounts plus courier, credit card service and banking perks. The $300 limited package includes: business referrals — if applicable; access to some promotional literature and collateral, listing in the limited service category of the members’ directory; discounts on promotional videos; some banking and courier service perks; access to a medical and dental plan for small businesses and Grand & Toy discounts. The fee hike is proving a sensitive political issue for businesses and owners are reluctant to go on record with their feelings. Some operators in Creekside say there isn’t a"hope in hell" they are going to pay a cent this year. Others say they will cough up $300 for the reduced package in the interests of maintaining peace but they don’t feel they are getting any benefit from membership. Some are upset with what they feel is the underhanded way in which Tourism Whistler went about trying to find out the square footage of their operations without revealing it would be used to calculate rates. Others, like Nesters manager Bruce Stewart who saw his invoice jump to over $6,000, said he is still considering his options. "I am not too happy about it," said Stewart. "We don’t benefit from being in the village so it is frustrating. We haven’t paid yet. I don’t know exactly what we can do about it at this point. I think there is some validity to what Tourism Whistler does. I think they are a good organization but they don’t necessarily work the best for us... that’s for sure. It does seem a bit of a waste of money." Operators in the accommodation sector, however, are more likely to fork out. Gord McKeever saw the invoice for the Whistler Resort and Club in Creekside go up 700 per cent but he said he will pay. "We had a partial service membership that was really, really reasonable. The increase is huge but, as an accommodation business, we do benefit for our involvement with Tourism Whistler. We are still getting good value for our involvement," said McKeever. He did, however, take issue with the "abrupt" notice. "The letter explaining the increase was dated Jan. 17 and it was mailed Jan. 23. I opened it Jan. 28 and it was advice of a 700 per cent increase effective Jan. 1," said McKeever. "As a purveyor of accommodation I still benefit but if I was a different merchant, being out of town, my benefits would be significantly less."