Tourism tax rate increases

The Columbia Valley could be well on its way to becoming even more of a tourism hotspot thanks to new support from the province

The Columbia Valley could be well on its way to becoming even more of a tourism hotspot thanks to new support from the province, but at least one local official remains skeptical about the latest funding announcement.

Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills, Shirley Bond recently announced the provincial government approved a one per cent increase to the maximum Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT) program rate allowed under the Provincial Sales Tax Act, which became three per cent instead of two per cent in the 2015 budget.

However, the MRDT rate will only apply to municipalities, regional districts or eligible entities that request the increase — and receive approval by the province.

In addition, there will be a Tourism Events Program to help support the planning, marketing and organization of provincially significant events and celebrations in tourism, which will be sponsored under the new provincial program.

“We know hosting events is an important way to grow our tourism sector and the new Tourism Events Program is a great way to build on the successes of the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Canada Winter Olympics, the Canada Winter Games and the FIFA Women’s World Cup,” said Bond. “These investments mean we can further strengthen our reputation as a world-class event hosting destination and increase the number of visitors to B.C.”

But the funding announcement to boost tourism numbers in B.C. has raised red flags for some, says Invermere mayor Gerry Taft.

“This is a complex issue, and I think it is unfair for the province to call this a new funding program, as this is not a share of existing provincial revenue, but rather, it potentially allows additional hotel room tax to be collected — an additional one per cent,” said Taft by email.

According to Taft, the program used to be called the Additional Hotel Room Tax (AHRT) and was designed to fund tourism marketing for destinations.

“The two Destination Marketing Organizations (DMO) in the Columbia Valley have been a bone of contention for some people,” said Taft. “Some folks believe that only the Columbia Valley name should be promoted, not the brands of Radium and Invermere/Panorama (the two organizations). Also, under the existing framework, Copper Point Resort and Fairmont are not included and do not collect taxes or fund any work of the DMOs.”

He ultimately does not believe it is an avenue worth pursuing for the Columbia Valley and urged the community to opt in favour of the Columbia Valley Directed Funds initiative instead.

“The Columbia Valley Directed Funds supports a facilitated process to explore valley-wide branding and marketing,” said Taft. “There is now a steering committee of industry participants who are continuing to explore this work, which is being co-chaired by the presidents of Panorama and Fairmont Hot Springs. Part of the work of this committee is likely going to explore if the current DMO models are the best ones moving forward.”

The co-chairs of this Branding and Marketing Steering Committee are Panorama Mountain Resort president and CEO Steve Paccagnan and Fairmont Hot Springs Resort president and CEO Pascal van Dijk.

“In my opinion, there is no potential to apply for and try to get the accommodators to agree on increasing the additional tax collected from two to three per cent until the future of the DMOs and the overall model for the valley is better understood.”