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Penticton council casts critical eye on tourism funds
Once again, tourism marketing of Penticton is the subject of controversy.
The latest round started with city council calling on the Penticton Hospitality Association to justify how they are using the funds they control, drawn from the two per cent hotel room tax, collected for the express purpose of external marketing of the city.
The discussion traces back to late 2011, when changes were made to the tourism marketing contract, eventually resulting in a split, with Tourism Penticton and the society that operates it being funded by the city and the PHA taking control of the hotel room tax.
Council expressed concern that little was being done with the money, noting in one question to the PHA that a total of $424,357 was collected last year from the hotel room tax, and only $93,659 spent. Of that, $74,176 was for work previously planned and carried out by Tourism Penticton. The remainder went for PHA expenses.
Through the course of nearly an hour, PHA president Robert Appelman, operations director Tim Hodgkinson and secretary treasurer Marko Crucnik were grilled by council on this and similar questions regarding spending, future plans and lack of collaboration with Tourism Penticton.
“I am a huge critic of the PHA, I have been from its conception to the present day,” said Coun. John Vassilaki. “From my view, I don’t think you are doing much.”
Through the course of 2012, Hodgkinson explained that they had been conducting a review of past structures and plans in order to move forward. In answer to similar questions for 2013 and 2014, they said the marketing plan had already begun and was due to begin shortly.
Other answers were similarly lacking in demonstrations of the funding being put to use, other than a veiled reference to an upcoming funding relationship with the Penticton Challenge and TEDx, though no amounts were specified.
“The season is over. If you haven’t done any promotional work on behalf of Penticton for this summer, your time is shot,” said Vassilaki, concerned that no marketing had been done by the group for 2013. “This is putting the City of Penticton in a huge hole.”
Hodgkinson suggested there had been a lack of communication, and that they were, in fact, progressing.
“The PHA has set out a plan and a road map to use the funds effectively for the promotion of Penticton. It has also been implementing those funds. It has been answering funding requests as well as putting together its own initiatives. “We have been distributing funds,” said Hodgkinson, adding that they have been talking with a number of organizations, including Gran Fondo and Challenge Penticton.
Other councillors remained concerned about the delay, like Judy Sentes, who pointed out that a tremendous amount of money had not been invested in ongoing marketing of the city.
“We can’t afford to lose two seasons. You lose ground very quickly,” she said. “Money doesn’t do anyone any good sitting in a bank account.”
Nor was council alone in questioning the effectiveness of how the PHA was using the money. Barb Schneiderat, herself a long-term member of the PHA, waited for two hours for a chance to speak during the question period following the council meeting.
“I have tried to get information from them (the PHA board) and it is not forthcoming,” said Schneiderat, who wanted council to look into why the PHA had rented Gyro Park and hired entertainers for an event.
“That money is supposed to be used for external marketing, not to entertain people that are already here in our rooms, spending money,” she said. “It is your duty to find out how that money is being spent, where it is being spent and the answers we got this evening are not true and accurate. I am looking for answers for $300,000.”
Though they have yet to have a meeting with the PHA board, Miranda Halliday, chair of the Tourism Penticton Board, hopes that they will be able to find a way to work together.
“We absolutely value the need for collaboration with the hospitality association. We have in fact, reached out on a number of occasions to try to meet with their board, to get the two boards together and move forward,” she said, noting that there were lines of communication. “We haven’t got there yet, but our invitation stands.”