All-season resort development is a key part of helping communities realize their economic potential, says the provincial minister of state for resort development.
“British Columbia’s resort industry is a resource industry,” said Sandy Santori, chair of the B.C. Resort Task Force. “B.C. is one of the few places in the world that has the capacity and geography to deliver four-seasons resort experience and destination value to the consumer.”
In a speech last week to the Vancouver Board of Trade, Santori delivered the highlights of the province’s new resort strategy, as compiled by the task force.
The task force identified five key recommendations for government:
* Maintain and enhance B.C.’s competitive edge in resort development;
* Increase resort development;
* Support resort communities;
* Address transportation infrastructure; and
* Assist the development of First Nations partnerships.
Meanwhile, Premier Gordon Campbell has announced he will double marketing funding for Tourism B.C. to $50 million and pump $25 million into the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) to enhance tourism at the community level.
“This will be local governments’ money to administer and allocate, to invest and leverage for tourism infrastructure and marketing, and to make the most of all B.C. has to offer,” Campbell said Friday.
The province also plans to launch a new campaign to increase winter tourism.
At the Board of Trade meeting, Santori noted a principal goal of the B.C. Resort Task Force is to simplify the currently complex approval procedures. Research indicates long-term tenure and a simpler approval process should lead to more investors, he said.
“We need to ensure that our processes in government are efficient, timely and cost effective,” he added.
“Potential investors have told us that they faced a daunting maze of process and approvals that drain their energy, their enthusiasm and their resources.”
The 15-member force was struck in February 2003, after Campbell challenged the tourism industry to double the size of revenues by 2010. Members of the task force spent a year travelling the province, visiting resorts and interviewing hundreds of resort owners and operators to help formulate B.C.’s resort investment strategy.
There are more than 700 existing resorts in B.C., ranging from small, remote fishing lodges to world-class destination resorts such as Whistler. These resorts employ more than 26,000 people across the province.
“Of the $10 billion generated by our tourism sector, about $2 billion comes from resorts,” said Santori. The task force would like to see increased support for existing resorts as well as new projects, he added.
Improving the province’s “cumbersome policies and timeliness” is also a priority, Santori said. “Simply put – we need to make it easier to do business in B.C.”
A memorandum of understanding was signed this past summer between the provincial government and the UBCM with an intent to harmonize the resort-application approval process between the provincial and municipal governments, regional districts and resort developers.
The task force continues to work on a Resort Development Best Practices Guide with the goal of providing more information to both governments and developers.
The next step is to release an action plan outlining dates and timelines for enacting the announced policy revisions.
Tourism has taken a big blow in British Columbia recently, the Board of Trade meeting heard. “In the past few years, we’ve had a lot of issues to deal with – SARS, the war, forest fires and the economy,” said Mary Mahon Jones, CEO of the Council of Tourism Association, in her introduction to Santori’s speech.
Though job creation in B.C. appears to be leading the nation, members of the tourism industry are turning to government for action, Mahon Jones noted.
“We’re just getting started – there’s much work to be done.”
The task force identified Whistler as a good example of the year-round potential that exists for many of B.C.’s resort communities. “More people now visit Whistler in the summer than they do in winter. The transition from resort to resort community has resulted in a market where $1 million is spent every day,” said Santori.
He stressed the importance of the province’s transportation infrastructure. “It’s simple. If you build it, they won’t come– if they can’t get there.”
As B.C. strengthens its transportation sector leading up to the 2010 Winter Games, “we also strengthen our resort sector,” he added.
Santori outlined a number of other factors as essential to improving the investment potential of the province. He said that environmental sustainability is essential regardless of sector, and resort development is no exception.
He also sees co-operation between government, First Nations, local communities and industry as a defining force helping to grow the economy.
(Karen Dyer can be reached at email@example.com)