B.C.’s resort municipalities look to province for funding

A ‘paradigm shift’ is required to navigate the future, says proposal

B.C.’s resort municipalities are hoping the province designates a portion of its economic recovery stimulus package exclusively for them and other communities with populations of less than 25,000. 

The Resort Communities Collaborative—a body that represents the province’s 14 resort municipalities, including Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality (SPMRM)—recently put forward a proposal for the funding. 

It asks the province to set aside $100-million for communities that rely heavily on tourism from the $1.5 billion B.C. has pledged to reinvigorate the economy. 

The proposal also asks that the federal government contribute a further $100-million to the pool of money. 

“With the arrival of COVID-19, the resort industry of British Columbia is facing unprecedented challenges and the disruptive nature of the pandemic means a paradigm shift is required,” reads the proposal, which was prepared by Brent Harley & Associates, a ski area consultancy company based in Whistler, B.C. “Not only will B.C.’s largest industry be dramatically reduced for at least the next two years, it will not look the same as it rebuilds itself.” 

According to the proposal, qualifying communities would be required to put up between 20 to 33 per cent in matching funds for specific projects. Projects to do with infrastructure, affordable housing, and those that aim to diversify a community’s economy by facilitating year-round visitation would all qualify for funding.  

SPMRM mayor Al Raine noted resort communities have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19, and there will be major challenges going forward, given current bans on international travel. 

Raine cited a recent report from the Kamloops Airport saying that passenger traffic for the spring was down 97 per cent from the same period last year. 

“If 50 per cent of your tourists are arriving by air, guess what? They’re not arriving this year for this winter,” said Raine. 

“Hopefully, they will return the following winter, but that’s a significant hit. So if we do some programs where there will be some economic stimulus in the communities that have been hard hit by COVID, we can employ some of the people that have lost their jobs.”

Raine added that he the proposal is reminiscent of  the 1978 federal and provincial Tourism Industry Development Subsidiary Agreement (TIDSA). Cited as one of the ways that B.C. became a global ski destination, it injected roughly $200 million in current funds to the province’s fledgling ski industry.

“It really kicked off Whistler as an international destination, and assisted other tourism products in British Columbia to upgrade and become more international,” said Raine, who played a vital role in the early development of Whistler. “We need something along those lines, so when international and national tourism comes back, not only do we have the product that was attractive to them in the first place, but we will be stronger and better than we were before.”  

The new proposal also addresses the issue of sustainable tourism, which has become an increasingly important discussion in resort towns; many struggle with issues such as high living costs, lack of accommodation, and crowding during peak periods. 

The proposal said one of the objectives of the plan would be to “define what success in the new tourism world” looks like, and support projects that would help manifest such a vision. 

“A key priority of B.C.’s Strategic Framework for tourism is to build a better and more sustainable tourism destination and, in order to do that, resort communities must start working on the challenges and issues that impact both their carrying capacity and sustained success,” it reads.  

“With the support of the federal and provincial government, we propose creating a funding program designed to address infrastructure challenges, and together complete key resort community affordability and livability projects.”