Tourism Tofino wants a new visitor centre at Cox Bay and is willing to increase Tofino’s additional hotel room tax to get one.
The destination marketing organization is set to hold a vote to see if Tofino’s fixed roof accommodation providers are willing to bump the tax from 2 per cent to 3 per cent.
During a presentation to Tofino’s municipal council on July 11, Tourism Tofino brought council up to speed on the need for a new visitor centre and the plan to obtain one.
The chair of Tourism Tofino’s board J.J. Belanger said a new visitor centre has been talked about since 2010 and suggested the current centre is “totally inadequate” for Tofino.
“We’re not going to build a behemoth. We know what our buildable square footage is out there; we’re not going to be coming close to that,” he said.
He said the additional hotel room tax would only stay at 3 per cent for five years and would drop back down to 2 per cent after that.
“We’ve done the numbers and the existing 2 per cent would not be enough to adequately fund a visitor centre of approximately 1,200-1,400 square feet,” he said.
“We’ve looked at the opportunities of staying at 2 per cent and trying to do it but it’s really not feasible.”
Tourism Tofino’s executive director Kirsten Soder saidsome of the additional funds brought in by the tax increase could be put towards local projects and programs that enhance Tofino’s tourism experience.
She said a new visitor centre could help increase visitor education and provide a symbol of tourism’s value to Tofino.
“If we can be attracting visitors into this new space, I think we’ll have a much better way of really drilling home some of those messages that we’ve talked about as far as being a great visitor in our community,” she said.
“I think residents really need to understand what the value of tourism looks like outside the context of, maybe, some of the parking issues or other things that appear to be the only spinoffs of tourism.”
She said the renewal application Tourism Tofino must submit to the province by the end of August would be a five-year commitment and a new visitor centre would be needed before the next renewal process comes around in 2021.
“This is renewal time and, when it comes to the visitor centre in particular, this is our chance. The existing centre is not going to last, physically, another five years; that’s fact,” she said.
“We do have some options. We could replace the trailer with another patchwork solution or we could do it right; both with visitor dollars. In either scenario we’re locked into the decision for five years.”
She added the centre would not be paid for by locals.
“These are visitor dollars. This is not local taxes. This is an additional cash injection into your community,” she said.
She suggested the Cox Bay visitor centre is not impressing tourists and cited a recent online review that called it a “bare bones shack with a few local brochures,” and gave it a three-star rating out of five.
“Do we want to be a three-star destination or do we want to be a five star destination,” she asked.
Belanger said the new visitor centre could be handed over to the district in the future.
“We need a new visitor centre…We also don’t need to wreck Cox Bay by putting in something that, down the road, won’t be useful to the district,” he said.
“It is district lands were looking at so, eventually down the road, if visitor services becomes something completely different, virtual reality or whatever, that building would then be given back to the district for their use.”
The additional hotel room tax, now known as Municipal, Regional and District Tax (MRDT), is collected by fixed roof accommodation providers—lodgings with four or more rooms—in various communities throughout BC.
The money collected is spent by destination marketing organizations like Tourism Tofino to increase their town’s visitorship. Prior to 2015, the most a community could charge was 2 per cent, but B.C.’s provincial government added a voluntary 3 per cent option last year.
Soder said Vancouver is the only community currently collecting the increased 3 per cent MRDT but she suggested other communities could join the fray during this year’s slew of renewal applications.
In order to bump up to 3 per cent, at least 51 per cent of Tofino’s fixed roof accommodation providers needed to voice their support and, as of July 29, 70 per cent of them were on board, according to Belanger.