Ski association lobbies province for HST exemption 

Tourism minister explains rationale for combining tax

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The much-challenged ski industry is growing more doubtful by the day that the province will exempt it from the planned harmonized sales tax (HST).

That means, effective July 1, 2010, the price of a ski holiday could, in effect, jump up by seven per cent.

"All the things they're not saying rather points to the direction that they will not drop the tax," said Jimmie Spencer, president of the Canada West Ski Areas Association (CWSAA), to whom Whistler Blackcomb deferred for comment on the issue.

"We've asked him (the finance minister and the tourism minister) if it's possible to exempt all the tourism operators from this tax because it really is quite a regressive tax to tourism operators. Whether he will do that or not, I don't know. He hasn't said."

Things previously exempt from the seven per cent provincial sales tax (PST), such as ski lift tickets and restaurant food, will then be subject to the 12 per cent HST.

This week, however, B.C.'s Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Kevin Krueger acknowledged the concerns of the tourism industry, but said they may prove to be unfounded in the long run.

"I don't think that people will decide not to come to British Columbia because of HST," said Krueger. "I think that when people are planning a trip, they probably have an eye on what the tax structure is. I think British Columbia will remain very competitive with the rest of the world and I believe that when all the dust has settled people will find that there has not been a dramatic effect and whatever effect there might have been will be lost in all the positive things that are already happening."

The positive things Krueger is referring to are all the spin-offs related to the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

But in this tough economic climate, Spencer isn't so quick to dismiss the challenges a seven per cent hike may pose to ski area operators.

"Almost everything they sell to the public as far as that holiday is concerned is probably not being charged with PST at the moment," said Spencer. "It's a seven per cent difference they've got to deal with."

Last season British Columbia saw an overall decline of one million skier visits as the world settled into a global recession.

"It's been a tough couple of years, the last season in particular because of the general economic downturn which is worldwide," said Spencer. "And so to have this on top of that is a further thing to grapple with."

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