So Dean Nelson is threatening to take his successful WinterPRIDE festival elsewhere unless they get some money from the municipality's Festivals Events & Animation budget.
And Shauna Hardy-Mishaw, while grateful for the $90,000 of FE&A funding the Whistler Film Festival will receive in 2013, is mystified why her festival won't get the $125,000 it received last year.
Welcome to the trough of free money. All are welcome to apply.
Of course it's not free. It's not even "taxpayers' money" according to a previous administration. Some hotel operators consider it their money because the formula the province uses for allocating Resort Municipality Initiative funds — which Whistler uses to fund the FE&A budget, among other things — is based on occupancy levels. The hotels generated the money, the thinking goes, so they should have a say in how it is spent.
Recognizing the potential perils of this trickle-down funding system, the current mayor and council wisely sought, and received, a multi-year commitment from the province to RMI funding, which allows long-term planning of festivals and events rather than year-to-year decisions. And then council established an oversight committee to advise them on how the FE&A funding should be allocated.
The first difficult decision came in December, when the oversight committee recommended WinterPRIDE's request for funding be turned down. The funding would have allowed them to bring in a mainstream celebrity to augment the festival. The rationale was Whistler would be busy already during the first week of February so it wouldn't be a wise use of FE&A dollars.
"To some degree it would have been kind of dumb for us to throw money at that," were the words of Roger McCarthy, the council representative on the committee.
But now that this year's WinterPRIDE has wrapped up, Nelson is looking for a financial commitment from Whistler for 2014. His case: he says WinterPRIDE has a $4.5 million impact on Whistler each year.
Hardy-Mishaw says the Whistler Film Festival has a $5.1 million economic impact on the province, of which $2.8 million is in Whistler. On top of that, the 2011 film festival delivered $13.5 million in media value for a "total value proposition" of $18.6 million.
The quest to prove whose festival is bigger has, to this point, been a mug's game. There have been a variety of studies and measures, not all of them comparable.
An Economic Impact Assessment conducted during the 2006 World Ski and Snowboard Festival found the festival generated $37.7 million in economic activity in the province, including $21.3 million in Whistler.
A 2006 study for the Western Canada Mountain Bike Tourism Association found Crankworx generated more than $11.5 million in expenditures that year.
The 2011 RBC GranFondo Whistler generated $8.2 million in economic activity in the province, including $2.7 million in Whistler. Cornucopia produced $4 million in total economic impact in B.C. in 2011; $2.3 million in Whistler.
The good news for those, like the FE&A oversight committee, trying to sort out the value of these and other festivals is that they will be comparable. Using RMI money, the municipality has hired the Canadian Sports Tourism Alliance to measure the economic impact of eight festivals. Three — Cornucopia, RBC GranFondo and Whistler Film Festival — were done in 2011. Five others were done last year. The 2012 results should be available in the next few months.
The CSTA says it uses a model that standardizes results, "thereby allowing for comparability of the economic impacts of different events in different locations across Canada." Which will be helpful, because one of the things lacking in the numbers thrown around is context.
If, for example, you add up the economic impact to Whistler of WinterPRIDE, WFF, WSSF, Crankworx, GranFondo and Cornucopia, according to the studies noted above, they total $45.1 million. It's not an accurate number for various reasons: the studies were done in different years; some were done a long time ago; the methodologies may have been significantly different. Still, as a ballpark figure, how do these six festivals fit within the $1 billion in annual tourism spending that Whistler was estimated to generate back in 2000, including $921 million in direct spending within Whistler?
Economic impact is one criterion for evaluating festivals and events — an important one, to be sure, but not the only one. Putting heads in beds at times of the year when there are plenty of empty beds is obviously another one.
Measuring the value of media coverage generated by a festival and/or a festival's ability to raise Whistler's profile is more subjective. How much value is media coverage in Kyrgyzstan or some other unlikely market for Whistler? Or what's the value of television coverage in a prime market if the broadcast is at 3 a.m. or six months after the event?
Then there's value for money. The Whistler Readers and Writers Festival believes it can bring in a big name writer with the $30,000 in FE&A funding it will have for this year's festival. Film stars, presumably, cost more.
The stated goal of the FE&A program is "to grow room nights and enhance the visitor experience in the resort." Several resort partners are working with the FE&A oversight committee in ongoing reviews and evaluations of events and the CSTA research in an effort to ensure the program is meeting its goal.
In other words, there's a fairly broad cross-section of the community providing input and rationale on how public money is allocated. Event producers certainly have the right to question decisions — and ultimately they are council's decisions — about who gets FE&A funding and who doesn't. But they should remember, it can be a fine line between questioning and whining.
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