Tourism dispute cools off in 2014

As 2014 draws to a close so does a dispute that has shaken the foundations of tourism marketing in Penticton for the past three years.

Thirteen-year-old Lex Thomas of Coquitlam puts the pedal to metal in his electric go cart in an attempt to catch up at Loco Landing Adventure Park one of the popular attractions for visitors to Penticton.

As 2014 draws to a close, Penticton may also be finally closing the doors on a dispute that has shaken the foundations of tourism marketing for the past three years.

The final chapter of the dispute between the City of Penticton and the Penticton Hospitality Association came in July, according to Tim Hodgkinson, the PHA’s director of operations. That’s when B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas Allan Betton handed down his decision on a suit filed by the city in early 2014.

“I think we have all put everything in the past already,” said Hodgkinson. “I think the Supreme Court judgment did that, put an end to the infighting and the bad blood.”

It’s an opinion shared by Mayor Andrew Jakubeit.

“We don’t want to go down another year of division and power struggle, all those negative things that sort of got us derailed from Penticton moving forward,” he said.

Tourism marketing in Penticton has been on a roller coaster since 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 more than $400,000 collected annually through the two per cent hotel room tax.

City Hall expressed concerns over how the PHA was handling the funds, culminating in an attempt to terminate the agreement in Oct. 2013, putting tourism marketing on an even less stable footing as the two sides took their dispute to court.

Justice Betton’s decision was in favour of the PHA, finding that the city had no cause to terminate the five-year contract with the PHA.

Hodgkinson likened the court decision to the beginning of a new relationship with the city.

“We have a wonderful opportunity. Penticton now has a real chance to build a vibrant tourism sector,” he said. “The mistakes of the past, the litigation, is all gone and the PHA is now being allowed to get on with their job and continue building on successes on behalf of the community.”

Jakubeit agreed the city lost momentum in the last year and a half as the dispute boiled over.

“We are not firing on all cylinders, and hitting our peak, leveraging as one force. It doesn’t matter to me which entity is doing it,” said Jakubeit. “This is all about helping augment the development of Penticton.”

Jakubeit, who was elected mayor in November, said his first steps will be to set up talks with Hodgkinson and PHA president Rob Appelman.

“I just want to make sure all the information is out there and be open with everyone,” he said. “It’s not as easy as it sounds, but sort of leave the emotions and baggage of the past, whatever it is, at the door and say how do we bring Penticton back to being that tourism premier destination it used to be.”

Hodgkinson said that since the decision was handed down, the relationship has been improving.

“City Hall, rather than being opposed, seems to be wanting to work alongside and help and support the PHA efforts,  which should have happened right from the beginning,” said Hodgkinson. “There seems to be an acceptance that the PHA is doing its job.”

Jakubeit said his aim is to ensure that all parties, including Tourism Penticton, are working together to return Penticton to the status of a premiere tourism destination.