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VIC asks for help in reducing operating loss

Tom Thomson, Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce executive director.

By Timothy Schafer, The Nelson Daily

With an operating loss of over $24,000 staring them in the face, the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce asked City council to at least restore their traditional funding allotment to help defray the cost of maintaining the Visitor Information Centre.

Chamber executive director Tom Thomson laid out the case for increasing the $76,000 per year the chamber now receives from council to operate the visitor information centre (VIC), back to the $88,000 they received from 2001 to 2006.

The fee-for-service was reduced by $12,000 per year in 2007 and has remained static over the past four years, said Thomson, despite operating expenses increasing (including City utilities and taxation).

Sharp declines in tourism province-wide in 2010 were somewhat softened in Nelson, Thomson noted, with the number of visitors the centre hosted in the previous year dropping seven per cent. In all, there were 19,000 walk-in visitors last year.

The mandate of the centre is to provide information services to increase visitor awareness of local, regional and provincial tourism, said Thomson. And it is working, he said, pointing to the average of $229 per person visitors spent in Nelson for each overnight stay in 2010.

One year ago Thomson asked council to renew their pledge in the 2009 budget for at least the $76,000 fee-for-service contract they had with the city last year. The contract was down from the $88,000 the city had given from 2001 to 2006.

The centre had its "historical" funding from the City cut in March of 2007 from $88,000 to $45,000 after council was disgruntled with the lack of contribution from the RDCK areas close to the city.

Council felt the centre benefited the entire area and not just Nelson; therefore, the rural areas should have contributed to the centre's operating budget. In the past, areas E and F of the Regional District of Central Kootenay had been sporadically contributing money to the centre.

At the time, Area F director Al Dawson said that 85 per cent of the taxes in his area came from residences, with very little of the tax-paying businesses in the area involved in tourism. He said if the VIC put together a business plan to show how Area F profited from the centre, then he would be ready to listen.

Area E director Josh Smienk said he viewed the VIC as a valuable service and had contributed to it previously, giving $5,000 that year as a one-time grant-in-aid.

Thomson will not know whether the VIC will receive the additional money they requested from council, since council was not in a position to make a decision on the request at the committee of the whole meeting — and will make that determination in two months once the budget is finalized.

The 1,500-square foot centre provides year round staffing of two full time and three seasonal councilors, opening nine-and-a-half hours per day from Monday through to Sunday from Victoria Day to Labour Day.