Tourism Squamish (TS) officials last week touted their recent successes in attracting media and visitor interest to Squamish, and in the organization’s operation of the Squamish Visitor Information Centre.
At the same time, they have launched an effort to secure the organization’s financial future for the next five years.
In 2013, TS collected almost $110,000 in Additional Hotel Room Tax, a two per cent levy that must be renewed by November if it’s to continue being collected for the next five years, Lesley Weeks, TS executive director, said on Monday (Feb. 17).
The money makes up more than a quarter of TS’s annual revenue. The largest remaining chunks come from retail sales ($206,000) and a grant from the District of Squamish.
TS board chair Cathy Jenkins told council on Feb. 11 that to continue charging the tax on Squamish’s approximately 500 hotel/motel/hostel rooms, TS officials must secure support from at least 51 per cent of Squamish hotels collecting the tax and 51 per cent of the total rooms.
Board member Trevor Magee told council that securing that support “is not a slam dunk,” adding that TS would have a difficult time surviving without the tax, which was first implemented in 2008.
Between now and May, the TS board and staff plan to gather information on the hotels that contribute to the tax, identify which managers support continuation of the tax and which don’t, and “develop an education piece that will communicate the value of supporting the renewal application,” TS officials wrote in a document submitted to council.
Continued support from the DOS — TS is seeking $50,000 for the third straight year in 2014 — is needed to move the group’s application forward with the provincial government, officials said.
Weeks told The Chief the renewal application process is a chance to engage hotel owners in a discussion about the value of the marketing and other services that TS provides.
In 2008, 73 per cent of hotel property owners and owners representing 75 per cent of the total units voted in favour of charging the tax.
“We’re confident that we have the percentage that we need but we want to try to get quite a bit more than the 50 per cent. A big part of this is engaging with the hotels, talking to them about what we do and getting their feedback,” Weeks said.
Since the three largest hotels’ room totals — Executive Suites (111), Sandman (86) and Best Western Mountain Retreat (75) — make up more than 50 per cent of the room total, it’s important that TS officials secure their support, Weeks said.
“It’s the owners of the hotels that have to sign off on [the tax],” she said. “Most of the GMs might be in favour of it, but the decision comes from head office in the case of chain hotels.”
In 2013, TS focused most of its out-of-town marketing efforts on markets proven to provide a high percentage of visitors to Squamish, Magee told council. A lot of its effort was spent on hosting members of the media who wrote positive or broadcast positive pieces about Squamish as a tourist destination.
One Postmedia reporter wrote a story titled, “Squamish: Canada’s natural workout.” It appeared in five publications and while it cost $1,800 to host the writer, the article has an advertising equivalent value of $21,000. An article in Westworld magazine, which has some 500,000 readers across North America, had an ad equivalent value of $32,000 on a $2,000 investment, Weeks said.
Council supported TS to the tune of $100,000 in 2010. That fell to $84,000 in 2011 and has been $50,000 for the past two years.
Mayor Rob Kirkham said the initial intent was that bringing in the hotel tax would eventually allow the district to reduce its TS grant to zero.
Magee said that five years ago, new hotel rooms were being brought onto the market in anticipation of the Olympics, but added that no new hotels are being built at the moment. Board member Jared Sissons said TS officials project a five per cent increase in room nights — and therefore the room tax collected — for this year.