Editorial: Tourism in the valley needs funding support

Creating and maintaining all this comes at no small cost to small tourism-focused municipalities

There’s no denying that tourism is the economic lifeblood of the Upper Columbia Valley and that, without it, life here would be markedly different.

Efforts by local municipalities to draw tourists result in facilities and services that go beyond what might otherwise be required to meet the needs of those communities’ full-time residents, as mentioned by Invermere mayor Gerry Taft and Radium Hot Springs mayor Dee Conklin in this week’s front page story.

This is a boon to locals, who also get to take advantage of this infrastructure and these services. It’s also a boon to the province, which gets more hotel room tax revenue with more tourists.

But creating and maintaining all this comes at no small cost to small tourism-focused municipalities,  so it’s good to see the province doling out some funding back to these communities through the Resort Municipality Initiative.

All of which makes the upcoming review of and changes to the Resort Municipality Initiative program, hinted at in a recent letter from the province to the District of Invermere, a matter of deep concern. No details were included in the letter,  leaving Mr. Taft (and no doubt many other valley residents) worrying what, exactly,  those changes might mean.

You can only hope those changes are positive — increases in funding, rather than decreases — and that a worst-case scenario of cutting the program altogether is simply nervous speculation.

Cutting the program would be nothing short of disastrous for many of the communities that have been using it for the last several years. Some of the province’s 14 designated resort municipalities have somewhat diversified economies, with other industries as well as tourism, but others (including Invermere and Radium) have economies that are tied inextricably to tourism.

The Resort Municipality Initiatives has given Invermere almost $1.4 million in total since 2009 and Radium more than $950,000 in total since 2007 — money these communities badly need to fund the kind of projects that enable them to compete as tourist destinations with bigger centres such as Kelowna or with the likes of Banff and Jasper.

It’s an advantage the valley can ill afford to lose.