When the 2015 federal budget was tabled last April, it included $30 million for the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) to enhance its U.S. marketing.
Conservative MP John Weston said the funding increase — provided after annual cuts slashed CTC funding from $99 million in 2001 to $58 million by 2014 — was a direct result of work done by he and tourism stakeholders in the riding.
"Over two years, we put together a very persuasive report that included four recommendations, one of which was to increase the marketing for CTC, and I was delighted that in budget 2015 we saw direct response from all of our work," Weston said.
"(It's) an illustration of how government works when passionate people with expertise work with government to make change."
The report, produced by Deloitte Consulting and titled Tourism in Canada: Seizing Economic Advantage, makes four key recommendations for Canadian tourism: remove visa barriers for visitors to Canada, specifically in Mexico and Brazil, and reduce processing times in China and India; reduce fees and charges that are creating an unlevel playing field for the air industry; negotiate more open and non-restrictive air agreements in target markets to open up routes and capacity; increase CTC funding for marketing Canada to the 2001 level of $100 million annually.
With a federal election just around the corner, voters in the Sea to Sky will likely be paying special attention to where each party stands on tourism.
Local NDP candidate Larry Koopman said he'd have to dig deeper into the recommendations made in the Deloitte report, but there were two he would support outright — removing visa barriers and increasing funding for marketing.
"I think we could really do well by those," he said.
On Aug. 17, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair pledged $30 million to be used for marketing Canada to U.S. tourists.
"Being a small business owner in the tourism industry, I know first hand the importance of promotion, and this is a growth industry in Canada," said Koopman, who owns a cottage-rental business in Gibbons.
"I'd far sooner support a clean industry like tourism over the reindustrialization of the Howe Sound."
Liberal candidate Pamela Goldsmith-Jones talked about the connection between tourism and the environment.
"What's most important to me and to the Liberal Party is the idea that the Whistler... tourism economy is totally linked to our natural environment," she said.
"So whether dollars go into the Canadian Tourism Commission that's another question. I'm staying focused on our riding and what works here, and I think that the (Deloitte study) points to where we can do better."
A Liberal government would invest in "sector-specific" strategies to support innovation in things like energy and fishing, "things that do contribute to the tourism sector," Goldsmith-Jones said.
"Maintaining proper environmental standards, as opposed to gutting them and neglecting them and cutting budgets, muzzling scientists... this is just completely offside with values in our riding."
As former mayor of Whistler and a Tourism Whistler board member for six years, Green candidate Ken Melamed has watched the funding decline firsthand.
"We have seen a steady decrease in funding to tourism agencies and to Canadian tourism," Melamed said.
Because the platforms of the major parties are geared more towards central Canada, B.C. is often an "afterthought," Melamed said.
"Electing an independent, strong minded, active group of Greens is the best way to ensure that B.C. gets a voice in decision making in Ottawa," he said.
After almost 40 years in Whistler, Melamed has seen tourism's potential flourish.
"It's an inspiring example of what a community can do through planning and strategy and partnership," he said.
"I have a history of tough negotiating with other levels of government... the Resort Municipality initiative is something I had a very large hand in that has been a significant boost to tourism in B.C.
"So I bring that kind of experience, that kind of determination and hard work to the file that I think will help not just Whistler but the rest of the corridor realize its full potential for tourism."
In regards to the Deloitte report, Melamed said in a follow-up email that the Greens would take steps to improve access to tourism visas, while ensuring reasonable security measures at our borders, as well as take steps to make air access more competitive with U.S. airports.
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