Future of RMI funding remains hazy 

Looking to the long-term of event planning in Whistler

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Though Whistler's Festivals, Events and Animation (FE&A) program is looking ahead to another jam-packed year of events — helped along by $6.73 million in Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding from the province — it's much harder to get a sense of what the program will look like past 2017.

The provincial government hasn't committed to anything beyond that, but says it is meeting with the 14 resort collaborative communities that receive RMI money to understand their strategic tourism directions and priorities.

Acting Mayor John Grills said the resorts have been talking amongst themselves as well.

"We're definitely putting energies together and speaking with some of the other key resorts to say 'OK, how can we assist the province and make it work for them?'" Grills said.

"Obviously, when they're spending the tax dollars they have they want to make sure they're used wisely... but I think they certainly see the results of their re-investment in Whistler with the growth in the room nights and the spend, so it's working for them."

FE&A programming, enhanced by RMI funds, has helped provide a boost to May-to-October occupancy in the resort since 2011.

Compared to 2011 occupancy numbers, every one of those months saw a significant jump, led by a 62-per-cent increase in October, a 49-per-cent increase in June and a 26-per-cent increase in July.

Tough Mudder, which added a Whistler Mudderella event last year and is bringing a Tough Mudder Half to the resort in 2016, has driven thousands of people to Whistler since it first arrived in 2012.

This year Tough Mudder will receive $205,000 (spread across all three events) from the municipality.

"It's a tremendous boon to us. We were very pleased and grateful to be receiving that," said Nick Cogger, director of business development for Tough Mudder Canada.

"The availability of the funds to support the event is a huge influence on our decision to return here year on year."

Cogger said current projected attendance for this year's three events is about 26,000 — 12,000 for Tough Mudder, 9,000 for Mudderella and more than 5,000 for the half.

Funding from the RMOW is used to offset operational costs associated with the events, Cogger said.

Losing the money wouldn't necessarily mean no more Tough Mudder in Whistler, but it "would definitely present some challenges for us," Cogger said.

"It just means that we would have to revisit other funding opportunities, and look at how we move forward, but I don't think it's an open-and-shut case that we wouldn't come back without the investment."

While RMI funds are used to boost the FE&A program, Grills said the money is also important for maintaining the village, as well as its parks and beaches.

"We are a town of 10,000 residents, but what we have on an average day is 28,000 people, so it's a difficult model to fund without assistance," he said.

"So we would have to make some adjustments if it wasn't there for sure, but the people are still going to come."

Whistler has received $67,608,206 in RMI funding since the program was launched in 2006, according to the provincial government.

In its 2016 draft budget, the RMOW set aside $75,000 for "research, assessment and scenario analysis of long-term resort funding tools and mechanisms," which suggests the municipality is preparing for a future with a different model of RMI.

"The funding under the term RMI is definitely changing (after 2017)," Grills said.

"Long term, is it going to disappear completely? I don't think so. I think it's just going to be a different model.

"How that looks, we don't know yet."

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