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Chamber aims to resolve tourism impasse

Business advocates in Penticton are extending an olive branch to the city in the hopes of keeping marketing momentum moving forward this coming tourist season.

Jason Cox, president of the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce, said the organization has made itself available to the City of Penticton as it develops its next plan for tourism, economic development and visitor information services.

“We are just concerned about the state of things in the hospitality industry,” Cox said Wednesday. “Some 20 per cent of our membership is represented in that industry. We are obviously concerned for them that in the process of this decision from last October until now, nothing has been accomplished. No marketing has been done, no budgets have been assigned.”

He said that the community is “clearly divided” over how tourism marketing should be handled, and he has discussed the matter both with the chamber’s liaison Coun. John Vassilaki and Mayor Dan Ashton.

“We hope we can help move the city past this impasse,” he said. “The most important thing, what everybody wants, is for the community to do well and have a good, healthy tourist season in 2012, 2013 and beyond.”

In November, Penticton council awarded the contract to provide tourism, economic development and visitor information services to the fledgling Penticton Business Development Group, which proposed to form a non-profit society, name a city-approved directors board and hire a CEO to oversee operations. The contract was effective Jan. 1, wrapping up the chamber’s long-time agreement to offer the city services.

Shortly after the announcement, however, the Penticton Hospitality Association expressed concern that hotel and motel owners were not consulted about the change. As a result, operators voted against allowing the PBDG to handle the approximate $425,000 fund generated from the additional hotel room tax — a two-per-cent tax on room rates collected by accommodators in town. Their approval is required to extend the tax, which is due for renewal this July. Without a budget to operate, the PBDG folded and the chair resigned last week.

Association representatives said last week they were “working around the clock” to come up with a proposal to give to the city regarding tourism.

Ashton said several individuals were working on the matter, and that he hoped to have an update during the next council meeting, set for Monday.

Cox said he was unsure what legalities the city faces with respect to the contract now, such as whether it’s required to go back out to RFP to find bidders to run the services. Should an RFP come out, he said, the chamber would have to evaluate the details.

In the interim, he said, the chamber hopes the city will embark on a consultation process with various stakeholder groups. “More fundamentally before they go out with a contract, they need to have a conversation,” he said.

 

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