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Tourism funding meets local resistance

Tourism funding meets local resistance

In advance of municipal budget processes, Sunshine Coast Tourism (SCT) has been presenting its plans to local governments, but its funding requests may not get an easy ride in the new year.

In 2016, SCT succeeded in implementing a Municipal Regional District Tax (MRDT) — a two-per-cent tax on accommodations with four rooms or more. Many local politicians had expected that government contributions to tourism funding would be replaced by the tax and were surprised last year to receive funding requests that were unchanged.

SCT Executive Director Paul Kamon appeared as a delegation at the Dec. 13 meeting of Sechelt’s finance, culture and economic development committee, and was scheduled to appear at the Dec.19 Gibsons committee of the whole. In Sechelt, he explained that SCT receives funds from “three pillars” (local government, industry and the hotel tax). Those funds are then matched by Destination BC.

The 2017 local government contributions, which SCT is asking to be renewed in 2018 are: $20,000 from the SCRD, $16,000 from the City of Powell River, $12,800 from the District of Sechelt, $12,000 from the Powell River Regional District, $7,200 from the Town of Gibsons, and $1,000 from the Sechelt Indian Government District. SCT also receives $12,000 in “in kind” funding (office space) from Tourism Powell River.

Industry contributions are raised from SCT membership dues paid by small accommodation operators (B&B’s). Large accommodators were exempted from dues on the grounds that they pay the MRDT. However, on Dec. 13 Sechelt Mayor Bruce Milne characterized this arrangement as “large industry players” getting a “free ride.”

And discontent was evident at the SCRD planning and community development committee on Dec. 14, where directors received a staff report clarifying their obligation to provide ongoing tourism funding.

A budget prepared by SCT in 2015 for its MRDT application estimated annual industry funding at $35,000 and local government at $40,000. According to Kamon’s presentation to Sechelt Council, the current industry contribution is $36,750 while local governments pay $81,000.

An SCRD staff report prepared by Janette Loveys, chief administrative officer, states: “Staff have found no reference to prevent the board from changing their funding options for 2018 budget.”

In response to a question from Area F Director Ian Winn about whether other BC local governments have changed their funding after the introduction of an accommodation tax, Loveys responded that they have, although all of the governments surveyed did contribute some amount to tourism.

Sechelt Director Darren Inkster pointed out that accommodation taxes elsewhere in the province are much higher than two per cent, and said he would like to see local government play a “very minor” role in funding in future.

The majority of SCT’s budget goes to marketing. Its 2017 budgeted expenses are 61 per cent marketing, 28 per cent staff and 11 per cent for office and development expenses.

SCT has just released a final draft of a 10-year destination development plan mandated by the province. Kamon said that this plan is not just about marketing, but covers long term strategies for improvement to transportation and other infrastructure that are needed for the development of the tourism industry.

Donna McMahon

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