tourism whistler rate increase 

By Loreth Beswetherick Tourism Whistler has been doing a bit of housekeeping over the past year and the result shocked some members when they looked at their invoices for this year — some went from $300 last year to $1,600 this year. The resort association has made changes to its membership fee structure. While most members saw a modest increase in the two per cent range, corporate supporters were hit with bills, in some cases, up 462 per cent over what they paid the previous year. This, said Suzanne Denbak, was done in an effort to make the fee structure more equitable across the board. "Essentially it goes to the issue of fairness and equity." She said in the past corporate support members — who join the resort association voluntarily — enjoyed virtually all the benefits of other members at a fraction of the price. "If as a corporate supporter you receive 90 per cent of the benefits a member receives you should pay 90 per cent of the fee a member would. Historically that has not occurred. We structured a program where essentially you now pay for the benefits you receive," said Denbak. Corporate supporters who don’t want the full range of benefits can opt for a cheaper $300 package of limited benefits. "It’s an attempt to bring our corporate supporters in line with the member fee structure," said Denbak. A corporate supporter, however, does not get voting rights along with the full benefit package, which includes: a web site listing; access to statistical data; lists of upcoming media visits; listing in promotional pieces — if applicable; central reservations and activity centre services on a commission basis; Grand & Toy discounts plus courier, credit card service and banking perks. While being a corporate supporter is voluntary, membership is compulsory for anyone who owns property on resort lands. Resort property is classified as either a hotel lodging lot, non-hotel lodging lot, resident resort lot or a commercial resort lot and fees structured accordingly. Tenants of commercial properties on resort lands were in the past also billed a flat $100 membership fee. That however, has also changed under the new fee structure. "Again, in the interest of fairness and equity we looked at that situation. We understood that in the vast majority of cases the landlord was passing on membership dues to the tenant through these triple net leases. We decided to waive the $100 fee. We were effectively charging them twice," said Denbak. Tourism Whistler will also be looking at re-drafting bylaws to exempt owners of employee housing on resort lands from paying membership fees. Currently employee units in the Intrawest complex on Glacier Lane opposite Whistler-Blackcomb staff housing are compelled to pay membership fees, as are owners of units in Gondola 6 at Creekside. According to Whistler Housing Authority general manager Rick Staehli, a blanket bylaw change would mean employee housing units within village hotels would also be exempt from paying resort association fees. The change will only apply to units where price and resale controls restrict property appreciation. It will not apply to units on resort lands — like those at Deer Run in Blueberry — that are solely occupancy restricted. With the new fee structure in place, Tourism Whistler is hoping it can keep annual increases within the two per cent range, but as membership income stabilizes over the next two to three years, the association will have to look for incremental revenue increases elsewhere. "Right now abut 70 per cent of our funding comes from membership fees and I would prefer to grow alternate sources before I burn the membership with larger increases," said Denbak. "I would like to be creative in securing incremental funding. It’s not a question of us not needing that funding... absolutely we do." She said securing corporate partnerships is one option and a consultant has been hired to pursue this end. Denbak said Tourism Whistler should be in a position to announce new corporate partners within the next two weeks. "We have had some success. For us, this is the first time in any significant way we are entering into the sponsorship arena for Tourism Whistler." Denbak said, however, the biggest challenge will be funding conference centre renovations. "The renovations are absolutely essential if we are to grow spring, summer and fall business. I am investigating all options right now," she said. "One discussion I need to have is with the municipality to understand if there is a portion of the hotel tax available for this and, if not from the existing hotel tax, if there is a way to secure incremental hotel tax that would arise solely because of conference centre delegates that are coming and would not arise but for the expansion and renovations of the conference centre." Tourism Whistler will also investigate the feasibility of provincial and federal funding.

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