The government of British Columbia recently announced that it will continue to support tourism in 14 resort communities throughout the province with $10.5 million for projects aimed at enhancing local tourism infrastructure amenities.
The funding comes from the government’s Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI), which helps to grow the tourism sector in the eligible 14 different communities, three of which are located in the Columbia Valley in Golden, Radium Hot Springs and Invermere.
“It’s really important,” said Invermere mayor Gerry Taft , noting that it was something of a rallying point for the 13 other communities who came together for the annual UBCM conference in Victoria last week. “It’s made a huge difference for Invermere. We’re able to work together on a lot of things and share our best practices and for all of us it’s a practice of being able to do some discretionary projects and make investments into the community that we wouldn’t be able to afford to do otherwise.”
Mayor of the Radium Hot Springs Clara Reinhardt echoed Taft’s sentiment.
“The RMI funding has been instrumental in creating the beautiful Village we have today,” she said. “Without the funding we would not have trees along the boulevard, enhanced sidewalks, trails, new playground equipment, Adventure Radium and the list goes on.”
Taft said that Invermere has recently entered into a five-year agreement with the province as part of their Resort Development Strategy. Within the strategy, they’ve outlined some of the ways that RMI funding will be allocated over the next five years. The funding includes $90,000 from 2015 to 2017 for the Resort Community Gateway Program. Taft said one of the more notable projects in the past that the RMI helped fund was the Mountain-Valley Shuttle Service that buses residents from Invermere to Panorama free of charge in hopes of increasing transportation to one of the Columbia Valley’s largest resorts.
Other projects that Taft said will receive funding from the RMI in the future include the waterfront access program, the community ambassador program and events co-ordination.
Since 2006 when the RMI was created, more than $108.6 million in funding has been invested in these small resort-oriented municipalities. According to the government, the province’s tourism sector is experiencing significant growth in 2016. The number of total overnight international visitors to British Columbia in 2016 so far (January to July) surpassed the three million mark for an increase of 12.5 per cent over the same period last year.
“B.C’s tourism industry is experiencing incredible growth,” said Shirley Bond, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Minister Responsible for Labour in a press release. “It’s helping to create jobs and is one of the reasons why our province has the leading economy in Canada.”
While the funding is appreciated, Taft said, it doesn’t come without its stipulations. The government mandates that it be used to enhance infrastructure, services and programs in ways that could increase the number of visitors and their length of stay, broaden resort activities to expand the length of the tourist season, increase employment and diversify the local tax base.
Taft said that although the funding comes with rules such as spending 70 per cent of the funds on infrastructure and 30 per cent on programming, he’s comfortable with the funding guidelines.
“Some communities would like to put more money into events and less money into infrastructure, but in general I think everyone is comfortable that there are some guidelines for how the money is spent,” he said. “It has a side benefit. It’s not the purpose of the program, but the side benefit is that local residents also get to benefit from these investments so it also provides a reason for local citizens to see a benefit out of tourism.”