Bulkley Valley tourism stakeholders have raised concerns that proposed changes to the way tourism funding is distributed could shift responsibility for marketing northern B.C. away from the region.
Destination B.C. (DBC), which distributes tourism funding from the provincial government, is planning a restructure of the way it allocates marketing money to regional organizations such as Northern B.C. Tourism (NBCT).
Currently regional associations like NBCT, of which there are six across the province, market their respective regions partly through contracts with DBC.
Details of the new funding model have not been finalized but it is understood the new approach would aim to align the work of the regions with the overall provincial marketing strategy.
Through the changes, DBC hopes to increase the total funding pool for the province by reducing overlap between the regions.
Tourism Smithers marketing director Gladys Attrill is concerned northern B.C. will only receive its fair share of funding if its promotions align with DBC’s overall marketing strategy for the province.
“What I’m worried about is that I’m going to lose folks that I rely on in an office that I trust and that Smithers and our northern communities will be disadvantaged in terms of being able to work with people and bolster and leverage our budgets in a way that makes sense to us,” said Attrill.
“If we don’t fit in those [provincial] priorities, my fear is that we won’t be as able to get those marketing dollars.”
She believes the changes could reduce the ability of northern towns to collaborate.
With limited information provided by DBC to date, she feared the changes could be detrimental to the region.
“It could be that there is a plan waiting to emerge that’s brilliant, the problem is I don’t know what it is,” said Attrill.
“I think that we have a system with really good people who are dedicated to the north and it’s apparent there’s going to be some changes but it is unclear what they are.”
Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach questioned Tourism Minister Shirley Bond about the changes at the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in Whistler last month.
He said the minister had been “very receptive” to his concerns.
“She indicated to us that it was going to be something she would be working on in the near future to make sure that communities weren’t impacted,” Bachrach said.
Minister Bond said DBC would consult widely with regional associations like NBCT, and with industry stakeholders, to meet the unique needs of each marketing region.
“It is critical that there be consultation to ensure that regions and organizations have the ability to provide input from a local and regional perspective,” said Bond.
DBC chief executive officer Marsha Walden said her organization had made a commitment that every region of the province would receive more funding as a result of the changes.
“There may be changes in terms of how much a region can directly access but in total for communities in the north, for experience sectors in the north, and for businesses along travel corridors in the north there are going to be more funds available for the north as a whole,” said Walden.
“It’s a matter more, potentially, of shifting dollars but the total pot will be bigger.”
Walden would not comment on whether any northern jobs were at risk, saying it would be up to the individual associations, such as NBCT, to decide whether they needed to make staff changes.
She said more consultations with the regions would take place before any decisions were made but she was confident the system would not be detrimental to northern B.C.
DBC will release more information about the proposed changes at the B.C. Tourism & Hospitality Summit in Vancouver on Nov. 4.
Walden said consultations would continue throughout 2014 and hoped plans would be finalized before March 2015.