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More funding for tourism in B.C. budget—but details remain scarce

New $25M tourism contingency fund announced, but unclear how monies will be accessed 
There was no mention of Resort Municipality Initiative funding in this week's B.C. budget, a crucial funding source for the RMOW. In 2021, RMI funds were used to complete the new washroom facility at Olympic Plaza, pictured here under construction.

Local leaders got a look at B.C.’s provincial budget when it was tabled on Tuesday, Feb. 22, and while there was $25 million in new funding announced for the tourism sector, details were scarce on the overall funding breakdown for
the industry. 

“Tourism is a massive contributor to the provincial economy, so our organization always pays special attention to ensuring some of the provincial budget finds its way back into the pockets of Whistler workers. That means work to do for our staff to understand exactly how it will be allocated,” said Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton of the $173 million in funding earmarked for B.C.’s Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport for 2022-23. 

That’s in addition to a new $25-million tourism contingency fund announced Feb. 22, part of the $2 billion Victoria has set aside for pandemic recovery contingencies and a small fraction of the $9.3 billion in capital spending slated for the fiscal year. 

The new fund is on top of $50 million already earmarked for the industry this fiscal year.

In a statement, the Tourism Industry Association of BC  (TIABC) welcomed the contingency funding, but said further details are needed to determine “if, when and how the funds may be accessed by operators still impacted by the pandemic.” 

The TIABC also noted this year’s budget was “shy on specifics” for the tourism sector, particularly around funding for destination marketing organizations, like Tourism Whistler. 

“What we don’t know yet is whether there are additional monies available to Destination British Columbia, Indigenous Tourism BC or regional and community destination management organizations for marketing our destination internationally more aggressively as COVID restrictions are lifted and competition for the visitor dollars heats up throughout the world,” said TIABC Chair Vivek Sharma, adding that the organization would continue to advocate for further provincial and federal support should more COVID-19 restrictions become necessary this year. 

There was also no mention in the budget of any monies allocated to B.C.’s Resort Municipality Initiative, a funding program that supports small, tourism-based municipalities build and diversify their tourism infrastructure and offerings—but Crompton’s understanding is that the program is still in place for 2022 despite a three-year, $39-million provincial commitment up for renewal this year. In 2019, the NDP made the RMI program part of its base budget, with a $13-million annual spend attached. 

Victoria’s habit has been to make multiple announcements to dribble out funding for the sector. Earlier this month, for example, the province announced that its Business Events and Conferences Restart Fund will provide up to $5 million in the fiscal year that ends March 31, and another $3 million in the 2022-23 fiscal year, to cities’ destination management organizations, such as Destination Vancouver.

Tourism Whistler president and CEO Barrett Fisher said those funds will be crucial to “kickstarting” conference and group business—a fast-growing segment of the resort’s tourism market pre-pandemic. 

“While we anticipate there will be pent-up leisure travel demand, we do believe that the meetings and incentives group side of the business will need some greater stimulation to instil that greater confidence,” she said. 

Ottawa’s recent loosening of border measures has also gone a long way towards bolstering travellers’ confidence in Canada, Fisher said. As of Feb. 28, travellers may use a rapid antigen test to meet Canada’s COVID-19 travel requirement instead of a PCR test, which had been a barrier to U.S. travellers accustomed to the rapid antigen requirement upon returning home. Fisher also lauded the decision to no longer require fully vaccinated guests to test upon arrival in Canada.  

“Having these unknowns for travel be lifted … has definitely boosted confidence and we’re already hearing positive feedback from meeting planners as well as from tour operators who send their leisure visitors,” Fisher said. 

- With files from Braden Dupuis and Glen Korstrom