Canmore Tourism prepares levy submission
Following several weeks of reports, brainstorming sessions and a successful annual general meeting, Canmore Business & Tourism (CBT) is preparing to deliver a proposal to council with the aim of implementing a three per cent levy on accommodations and activities within the town.
At a Committee of the Whole meeting last month, CBT President and CEO Andrew Nickerson presented options for a sustainable funding model to members of council and indicated how the current system in place is not ideal to continue.
Since its creation, CBT has received the majority of its funding through the Canmore Destination Marketing Fund (DMF) – a volunteer group of 12 hotels that have collected a three per cent resort fee levy on all hotel rooms for the past four years.
The money from the DMF was put towards marketing hotels in town and so far this year the total collected has been $665,000. Approximately 80 per cent of the voluntary funding for CBT is from the DMF, which make up 717 of the 2,361 rooms in Canmore.
Due to a lack of participation from hotels dismissing the three per cent levy, though, the DMF announced it would cease funding in January unless the CBT refuses membership to non-DMF members or there is a municipally-regulated three per cent collection for all hotels.
As Nickerson notes, the key part of the CBT having this sustainable funding will be to ensure tourists, not residents, will be those who are targeted with the levy and hotels and activity providers in the area get as much promotion as possible.
“Our biggest thing is we want it to be paid for directly by the guest,” Nickerson said. “We don’t want it to be paid for by the businesses themselves and we don’t want it to be paid for by locals.
“If we want to become the number one destination of choice for Albertans, we need to be actively engaged in the Alberta market, whether that’s through print, billboard or effective social media,” he added. “The more (funds) we have coming in, we know it’s going to be dedicated to going down these areas.”
Part of the reason for the lack of involvement from some of the non-DMF hotels over the years has had to do with trust, however, the president and CAO is confident the proposed model for council will aim to attract visitors year-round.
“The organization has always been terribly under resourced and subsequently one of the things that happened was that it used to do a lot of work, particularly in international markets, that wasn’t seen by the people here,” he explained.
“I think there were a lot of people who thought money coming into this organization was just a black hole,” he continued. “I don’t think that past history helps us. I also think people have used not contributing to the DMF potentially as an advantage saying ‘we don’t charge the three per cent’.”
In its report to council, CBT stated tourism is the town’s biggest economic driver and also provides the best opportunity for growth, adding there are very few businesses in town not affected directly or indirectly by tourism.
“Our business plan is built around how we bring people in September to June, Monday to Thursday, because that’s the business that’s really going to impact not just the hotels, but also the restaurants and the shops,” he said.
“We have some fabulous events that go on in this town, but a lot of them are on long weekends in summer,” he added. “What we’re looking to do is develop those two- and three-week festivals in soft times of year that are going to bring people in and have them stay for a few days.”
In the proposed model, a percentage of the budget has been flagged where the more money that comes in, the percentage grows, which will be used directly for innovation and development programs such as a festival or infrastructure for conventions and meetings.
An alterative to the model is for the CBT to continue accepting the funding from the DMF and stop marketing the non-participating hotels, which Nickerson says will be detrimental to the entire community.
“Nobody wants to see that happen because what we’re doing is underselling the destination,” he explained. “We would effectively be going out and misrepresenting what we have here.
“Having gone through the process for the last couple of years, we’re quite adamant about the fact anything that happens now needs to be mandatory because with the voluntary model, people will continue to find reasons why not (to take part),” he said.
Donna Trautman is chair of the DMF and in an interview said the CBT has made strides to increase its presence in Canmore and is essential for the town’s businesses to stay competitive.
“I feel they are engaging a lot more people to get involved in the marketing and getting involved in tourism in general,” Trautman said. “They’ve gained a lot of respect in the last year and a half under Andrew’s direction.
“If we want to be competitive in the market place, we have to have a lot of hotel rooms in Canmore and if we want to fill those rooms, we have to work a little bit,” she added. “You can say ‘build it and they will come,’ but I think we’ve learned that that’s not really reality.”
Nickerson stressed the CBT is always looking for new ideas on how money generated from the levy can be spent as well as any other suggestions regarding improving community engagement.
“What we do want to really get out there is that we’re open to discussion,” he said. “We’re having as many different opportunities as we can to get people to really engage with us. The door is always open here if people want to come in with any questions or concerns.
“We want businesses here to be flourishing and for that to happen we need to get rid of the soft periods on Tuesdays in January where there’s nobody walking down Main Street,” he added. “We need to find a way to positively impact that.”
CBT is expected to deliver its proposal to council sometime next month.
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