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Tourism Victoria membership still contentious for some cities

Not all municipalities willing to pay for Victoria-based tourist marketing

Talk to any district on the Island and you'll hear pride swell as mayors and residents boast about their city's prized attractions.

Oak Bay shines for its star park at Cattle Point, Langford puffs out its chest about hosting Rugby Canada, Colwood salutes its historic virtues of Fort Rodd Hill, while Sooke bows to its glorious natural reserves and Saanich brags about its Uptown shopping mecca.

And, of course, Victoria smooths back its regal quaff to draw a postcard-perfect picture of everything touristy in the capital city.

Tourism remains the biggest industry of the South Island region, yet a heated debate has trailed the 13 municipalities that rely on a tourist economy to host world-class exhibits – who pays to ensure tourists turn their heads?

Although Tourism Victoria catapults its power around the globe, not everyone thinks aligning with the group is beneficial.

“Tourism Victoria is a membership-based organization, and our approach to tourism is to market the destination in a holistic manner,” said Tourism Victoria board chair Dave Cowen.

“We promote the Craigdarroch Castle, Butchart Gardens, the Fisgard Lighthouse, and all of those places take visitors around the area and away from the downtown core.”

Victoria has had some form of tourism bureau since 1901, but Tourism Victoria in its current form has been around for almost 40 years. The not-for-profit is funded through membership fees, grants from Victoria and Saanich (at $47,000 and $36,000) and a special hotel tax from the two communities that bring in about $2 million annually. The Visitor Services portion of the organization also receives a provincial grant, giving Tourism Victoria an operating budget of $4.2 million.

Though it sounds like a lot of money, the organization creates more than glossy brochures — it markets the region around the world and facilitates partnerships with places as far as Europe and Asia.

“We are of the opinion that a strong tourist industry, that might appear to be centered in Victoria, is helpful to all the municipalities, and we think we have a responsibility to work together here,” said District of Saanich Coun. Susan Brice, chair of the finance committee. “Pooling our money with all the communities is the only way to focus our efforts effectively.”

The City of Victoria, District of Saanich, District of Oak Bay, Township of Esquimalt, Town of Sidney, Town of View Royal believe the cost is well worth the gains. But while the City of Langford also holds membership, the area mines a different philosophy – and collects a hotel tax which it does not contribute to Tourism Victoria.

“There is no real benefit for us, from our point of view,” said Langford Mayor Stew Young.

“Victoria's focus is tourism, and they're great at doing what they do down there, but we don't have those kind of hotels and touristy things here. Our focus is on sports tourism, and making this the best possible community for the residents who already live here.”

Young said Langford's hotel tax, which largely comes from pro sports teams and conferences that make their way to the Bear Mountain Arena, directly funds the Langford Sport Authority which markets the home of Rugby Canada and all the district's sporting potential. Funds also support community-improvement projects and economic developments.

“Why would we give Victoria our money and then try to tell them to spend it on us?” said Young. “It's not like Victoria is telling tourists 'Go to Langford.'”

news@mondaymag.com

Next issue: the City of Victoria weighs in on the fairness of divided municipal support while Sooke shows concern for a lack of representation.

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