Tofino is set to spend millions marketing its paradise to potential tourists over the next five years and that has some elected officials wondering how much is too much.
Tofino’s destination marketing organization, Tourism Tofino, has officially submitted a new five-year financial plan that increases Tofino’s Municipal Regional District Tax from 2 per cent to 3 per cent.
The Municipal Regional District Tax, formerly known as the additional hotel room tax, is collected by fixed roof accommodation providers—accommodations with four or more guest rooms—and paid by tourists staying at those accommodations.
The tax increase will take effect June 1, 2017.
Tourism Tofino is expecting to collect, and spend, roughly $1.2 million in MRDT revenue next year and estimates that amount will rise each year for the next five years.
Much of the money will go towards marketing but Tourism Tofino is also hoping to build a new visitor centre at Cox Bay.
The new visitors centre is expected to cost roughly $1.4 million, according to Tourism Tofino’s projected budget, and will be paid for over five years with credit being used to manage the frontloaded costs of the building in 2018 and 2019.
In order to move forward with the tax increase, Tourism Tofino needed permission from Tofino’s municipal council, which it received on Aug. 23 though council’s vote wasn’t unanimous.
Coun. Dorothy Baert spoke against the increase citing a need to “press pause” on Tofino’s tourism industry rather than spend more on marketing.
“How much is enough until we deal with some of these other things,” she asked.
“There are things the community wants. There are things the community needs. There’s an organization that is applying a lot of money to bring more people here and we are dealing with the impacts and no certainty that we have the resources to do that.”
She said tourism has created challenges and the money Tourism Tofino has earmarked for marketing would be better spent on emergency preparedness, public transportation, and housing.
“We have such incredible stresses on our community,” she said. “We’ve got a whole lot of management issues here.”
She acknowledged the provincial government and Destination B.C. put restrictions on what Tourism Tofino can spend its MRDT revenue on but said local governments need to send a clear message that these restrictions need to be loosened because tourism economies need infrastructure.
Coun. Duncan McMaster said it was too late to send that message by rejecting Tourism Tofino’s financial plan because that plan was due the following week.
“We’ve known about this for such a long time that it’s a bit late in the game to go back and change it,” he said.
Coun. Greg Blanchette agreed with Baert and said Tofino is creaking under a “marketing juggernaut” that should be slowed.
“When I was reading through this package, I found myself sinking a little bit deeper and deeper into despair because it’s all marketing and bringing more people here,” he said. “I believe this is a tipping point year where the people we represent are going to say, ‘That’s enough. Tourism is as high as it should go until we start dealing with some of our community issues.’”
Blanchette said he was disappointed to see Tourism Tofino’s budget focused so thoroughly on marketing considering council had met with the organization a month prior and been told more money would be spent locally.
“My impression, when we met at the strategic session, was that they were going to try to move into destination management to address some of the problems that are only getting worse,” he said.
“There were a lot of good things on the screen that I don’t see reflected in these documents before us.”
He acknowledged it was too late to ask for changes but voted to oppose the tax increase symbolically.
“I’m going to vote against this motion but I wouldn’t do so if that were a carrying vote to defeat the motion…It’s quite a bit of a political game here, but i want to send a message,” he said.
“I expect the motion will pass, and I want it to pass because it’s late in the game, but I want to send a message to Tourism Tofino and to council itself that we’ve really got to deal with this.”
Baert and Blanchette were the only opposing votes to the increase.
In an email to the Westerly News after the meeting, Mayor Josie Osborne touted Tourism Tofino as an “extremely professional organization” run by a solid staff and keen Board of Directors.”
“They are doing an excellent job of fulfilling the mandate that has been set out to them by the municipality and the Province, and it is important that there be a very close relationship between the municipality and Tourism Tofino,” she wrote.
“That relationship is strong, and effective, but like any relationship it takes hard work and is not always easy. The tension between promoting an industry and mitigating the negative impacts of that industry is natural and, frankly, necessary, to keep us all sharp and keenly aware of the quality of life of local residents as well as visitors’ experience.”
She suggested Tofino should start having community conversations around the local tourism economy.
“I think Tofino is in a critical period where we are really starting to wrestle with how to remain a ‘town with tourism,’ and not become a ‘tourist town,’” she said.
“Together with the community, the District of Tofino developed a Tourism Master Plan in 2014 to ensure our community vision is not compromised by undesirable tourism development…That plan has been sitting on the shelf a little too long and the time to implement it is now.”