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Whistler continues to experience strong tourism recovery

RMOW Q2 financial update details coronavirus rebound
Fairmont Chateau Whistler in Summer
Revenues from hotel tax and parking have grown substantially in 2022.

Whistler is continuing its steady climb out of the financial depths wrought by COVID.

According to the Resort Municipality of Whistler's (RMOW) Q2 financial report, presented to mayor and council on Sept. 20, the RMOW continues to experience a strong recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, with revenues increasing thanks to a rebounding tourism sector. 

“In the tourism economy, recovery has been stronger than we expected. MRDT revenue has been incredibly strong, exceeding expectations,” said RMOW director of finance Carlee Price in a presentation to council. 

Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) and Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT, also known as the hotel tax) funds were both up in Q2, and represented $5,128,916 in combined revenue—a 318-per-cent year-over-year increase from Q2 2021. 

April, May and June 2022 all exceeded 2019 revenues, which was the previous peak. With the additional income, the RMOW has allocated more resources to visitor services and its 2022 financial plan.

Additionally, the surge in visitors to the municipality, particularly those that come by car, has helped increase parking revenue. 

In total, the RMOW brought in $78,502,560 in revenue in the first half of the year, a 12-per-cent increase over the previous year. Revenues from property taxes, user fees, permits, programs and admissions were all up compared to 2021. 

While revenues were up in most of the municipality's income sources, a few saw notable declines compared to the previous year, particularly transit, thanks to the longest transit strike in the province's history, and investment revenue, due to changing financial market conditions. 

Investment revenue brought in $557,818 so far this year compared to $811,179 in 2021, a decline of 31 per cent. Rising interest rates have affected returns across the financial sector and are partly to blame for lower returns, Price said.  

“There was a sharp increase in interest rates in the first half of the year. This affected the realized value of pooled investment products that we sold during the period,” she said. 

“Overall, those are still good investments when we calculate the cost of the loss of the capital against the income received on those investments during the same period."

Another income source that has not rebounded like other parts of the municipality is the Meadow Park Sports Centre, which has struggled with lower visitation levels. 

While 2020 and 2021 visitation numbers were affected by COVID restrictions, in 2022, the bus strike, combined with staffing shortages that have led to unplanned closures for the facility, have substantially reduced visitation levels. 

The RMOW has spent $35,412,256 so far this year, with corporate and community services making up the most significant chunk of expenditures at $14,607,756. 

According to the report, in the first half of 2022, the municipality spent $6.6 million on municipal projects, or 14 per cent of the total budgeted $47 million. 

A few of the larger projects have been shelved or deferred to future periods, including the White Gold and Alta Vista utilities undergrounding projects and Meadow Park Sports Centre building repairs and rejuvenation projects. Together, the projects represent $8 million of planned spending. 

Some of the larger construction projects in the municipality are approaching completion, such as Lost Lake Gateway Improvements and the public safety building roof replacement. Of the 146 unique approved projects in the current budget, 102 had some spending recorded against them in the first half of the year. 

The financial picture generally seems optimistic for the municipality, though rising interest rates may negatively affect future debt obligations. With tourism returning in stride in 2022, revenues are on a positive trajectory. 

"Certainly, we're in an environment of greater certainty than in the past two years, but certain things will negatively affect this community going forward—this includes inflation and other factors,” Price said. 

An open house on the budget will take place on Dec. 1 at the Whistler Public Library, and all are welcome to attend. 

Learn more about the RMOW budget here