The newly formed Hotel Association of Whistler is adding its collective voice to a chorus of concern about the future of hotel tax funding in the resort.
In less than six months, there will be no more hotel room tax in B.C., replaced instead with the 12 per cent Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). It is not clear at this point what that means to the roughly $10 million in annual hotel tax that flows to the municipality and, by extension, to Tourism Whistler, for tourism related projects in the resort.
"I would call it more a fear of the unknown, which is uncertainty amongst all of us what happens, and so we need to band together right now and form solid partnerships together, particularly for our community," said Mark Herron, general manager of the Four Seasons Resort Whistler.
Herron is the chairman of the board for the Hotel Association of Whistler, which has been meeting informally for roughly the past year and is now officially up and running with 18 hotel members,
Herron, along with the association's executive board, was part of an all day meeting Monday with municipal officials and representatives from Tourism Whistler and Whistler Blackcomb. Their goal was to understand just how important hotel tax funding is to Whistler's future and to convey that message to the province.
The municipality has long received two per cent hotel tax funding. In 2007 Whistler was granted an additional four per cent of the hotel tax, after lobbying with other B.C. resorts for more "financial tools" to support their unique tourism markets.
"We all believe that in the best interests of Whistler to be successful, we maintain all funding available to us through the Resort Municipality Transfer Tax (hotel tax)," said Bill Barratt, CAO of the Resort Municipality of Whistler.
Of the millions that came into Whistler this year, more than $1.3 million went to Tourism Whistler. Other initiatives included film festival funding, arts council funding, conference centre improvements, and funding for the athletes' village.
Barratt added that he's not overly concerned about the situation because he knows the province is well aware of just how critical the money is to Whistler in order to maintain and, indeed, grow its tourism product.
"They (the province) understand the engine that Whistler is," said Barratt.
Despite that, he said it's important to get all the key players on board in a united front to present the message to the province. That's why the recent support from the new hotel association goes a long way.
"The hotel association in this case is supporting to either replace or continue with the two per cent hotel room tax, as well as the four per cent tax that's current," said Herron.
When asked if the hotel association would like to have a say on how the hotel tax, which they collect, is spent in the municipality, Herron said:
"We didn't go into those details but the answer would be yes. We would like to at least be (consulted) on what we feel is important for destination marketing."
The protection of the hotel tax funding isn't the only thing on the agenda for the hotel association.
"I suppose we're all concerned about the afterglow of the Olympics and how we'll market that in the most effective manner," said Herron.
The hoteliers, he said, have vast experience in hotels and marketing.
"We can provide advice... to ensure that the Olympics are not just a two week program, that for many years to come we can prosper and benefit from them."
The 18 members of the association represent more than 3,200 hotel rooms in Whistler.
The hotels, which include the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, the Hilton Whistler Resort and Spa, the Sundial Boutique Hotel and the Four Seasons Resort Whistler, all have 24-hour front desks and daily housekeeping services.
Herron recognizes there are thousands more rooms in the resort that do not have front desks or 24-hour service.
"We had to somehow get started," he said of the guidelines to join the association.
"That could change in the future."
Herron, who has 22 years experience with the Four Seasons in several different locations, said it's unusual for a place like Whistler not to have a hotel association.
He said: "We want to serve as an advocate, a voice to express the interests of the accommodation sector here in Whistler and it's difficult to do individually but as a group certainly we can collectively help guide at least the accommodation sector and the marketing in tourism more than we could individually."
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