Community to weigh in on hotel tax spending 

Task force will make recommendations

With the hotel tax revenues getting smaller and smaller every year and expenses getting bigger and bigger, there is a keen interest on how the money is being spent to promote Whistler.

In response to a request from the Chamber of Commerce and local hoteliers, council has formed a hotel tax task force.

The six-member task force will examine hotel tax expenditures, which last year dropped 13 per cent to just $3 million, down almost $1 million from its peak in 2001. The money, as per provincial legislation, is supposed to fund tourism promotion, projects, and programs – to essentially drive more visitors to the resort.

"I think we’re all on the same page when it comes to understanding that the resort has been struggling in visitor numbers and it’s in all of our interests to work together to see if there’s things we can do to change that," said Mike Wintemute, chair of the chamber board. "That’s really what it comes down to.

"Anything we can to do engage the business community to look at the various options that may be out there that we haven’t looked at in the past, that needs to be done, absolutely."

The hotel tax is money collected on all hotel rooms in B.C. In Whistler it’s a 10 per cent tax – eight per cent goes to the province, two per cent goes into municipal coffers.

The more hotel rooms being used, and the more expensive they are, the more money there is coming to the resort from the tax.

The fact that hotel tax revenues are dropping is a sign of the tough times Whistler is experiencing.

In 2005 more money was spent out of hotel tax pot than there was money coming into it. The account now has a negative balance, which is projected to get even bigger in 2006.

Some of the major programs funded in 2005 by the tax were:

Tourism Whistler $549,962

Visitor Information Services $190,000

Village ihost program $ 46,971

Village Maintenance $228,272

Whistler Events Bureau $47,000

Event Support $235,532

RCMP $140,000

The biggest expenditures however were the money that went to fund major capital projects, more than $800,000, and the money used to fund the free village shuttle, more than $700,000.

Wintemute said despite the rumour that the chamber or hoteliers are looking to cut the free village shuttle that was never part of any discussions leading up to the creation of the task force.

"It was never discussed that that should be cut or shouldn’t be cut and it’s unfortunate that that got passed on," he said.

"Although I’m not going to say that the hotels and the chamber as an organization might look and say ‘look right now we’d be better off to charge the bus fee and use more money to bring the guests in.’ That may be what the conclusion is."

He said they are entering the discussions without any preconceived ideas of how the money should be spent.

The task force will bring together a representative from Tourism Whistler, the Chamber of Commerce and one general manager from the hotel sector. Two municipal employees, Administrator Bill Barratt and the general manager of corporate services, John Nelson, are also appointed. Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden will chair the task force.

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