Whistler not the only resort to reap RMI rewards 

Resort Collaborative to show province its return on multi-million RMI investment

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Other B.C. resorts may be following in Whistler's footsteps, growing their summer business with free outdoor concerts, but that competition is not cause for concern.

"Growing British Columbia as a destination overall, whether it's summer or winter, or fall or spring, that's not a detrimental thing to Whistler," said Whistler's CAO Mike Furey. "You're just creating a great draw when you really promote the province as a whole."

That was the message he brought back to Whistler after attending the annual meeting of B.C. resort communities known as the Resort Collaborative, in Revelstoke last week.

The meeting was a chance for the 14 resort communities, which received $10.5 million in Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding from the province this year, to talk about their successes and challenges as they each work to grow tourism.

Whistler received the lion's share of that funding, $7.1 million in 2014, which is based on tax collected through hotels.

"It's a great opportunity where communities come together and share best practices," said Furey, who attended along with Jan Jansen, general manager of resort experience, from June 4-6.

"Each community would share what's happening and some of the opportunities and challenges they're experiencing."

Sun Peaks, for example, is expanding its summer offerings with free concerts and has been growing that plan over the last three years. It is made possible with the roughly $300,000 in RMI funding.

This year will see five weekends of free, outdoor music weekends in a range of genres from children's programming to Juno Award winners.

Some concerts have drawn crowds of 5,000 to 7,000 spectators, and resort occupancy in the core hotel rooms has soared to 97 per cent on some of those weekends.

"RMI has been a huge driver for us," said Tourism Sun Peaks president Christopher Nicolson.

Over the last two summers, Sun Peaks saw a 37-per-cent growth in summer business.

"That's got to be a shining example of what the province was able to do with that Resort Municipality Initiative funding," added Nicolson.

The free outdoor concert series in Whistler is now moving into its fourth year at Whistler Olympic Plaza. Of the $3.1million Festivals, Events & Animation budget (roughly half of the RMI funding), $180,000 is going to free concerts.

The Resort Collaborative will meet again at September's Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) in Whistler Sept. 22-26.

The group intends to meet with provincial ministers, and the recent meeting in Revelstoke was a chance to plan for that meeting.

"We're still working on that agenda but really showcasing the return on investment and how we're monitoring results of the RMI funds," said Furey.

The province provided $10.5 million for the 2013/14 fiscal year and the same for the 2014/15 fiscal year.

Last year saw a 12-per-cent growth across the 14 RMI communities.

Whistler has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the province for RMI funding stretching until 2016.

When asked if the government anticipates that the program will grow next year, a government spokesperson with Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, said: "The program varies from year to year and it's hard to predict how funding will take shape next year. The government is constantly keeping an eye on how it spends its money and ensuring that all communities are treated fairly in terms of funding commitments."

When asked if there have been any lessons learned from the program since 2006, the spokesperson added:

"We've learned that RMI funding has been a valuable resource for the communities we've supported. We have also seen RMI communities, especially smaller ones, continue to establish and improve their infrastructure, visitor services and off-season offerings. All of these projects contribute positively to the provincial tourism economy. We are always reviewing programs to ensure we have the best return on investment, and to meet the economic goals that our government is focused on."

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