CANMORE – If the Alberta Party is elected in the spring, it will direct money collected through the province’s hotel tax to support the tourism industry instead of supporting the government’s general coffers.
That was one of the messages shared by Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel, who was in Canmore last Thursday (Jan. 31) to support the party’s local candidate Brenda Stanton.
“We believe tourism is a remarkably important part of the province and we see that the historical use of the tourism hotel tax should not go into general revenues. It should go to the industry and be used for a fund to help develop the industry,” said Mandel.
Currently the provincial government applies a four per cent tourism tax on overnight accommodations such as hotel rooms and bed and breakfasts. In 2017-18 the levy generated $85 million.
“I think it’s absolutely morally wrong to take a tax that’s suppose to be for an industry, take it away and put it in something else,” said Mandel. “It isn’t a fortune of money to begin with, but it will make a lot of difference to the communities who are pushing for tourism.”
The Ministry of Culture and Tourism rejected Mandel’s claims.
“Revenue sources such as the tourism levy enable government to invest nearly $110 million to support the tourism sector in 2018,” wrote John Archer, a cabinet communications official.
According to the government, it spent $44.1 million last year to support tourism marketing through Travel Alberta and spent millions more to support major cultural and sporting events throughout the province.
Money was also earmarked for institutions such as the Calgary Zoo, Fort Edmonton Park and the Royal Tyrrell Museum.
During Mandel’s brief stop in Canmore last week, he also acknowledged the challenges tourism-based communities face, however he appeared cool to the idea of giving Canmore, Banff and Jasper additional revenue tools to help pay for infrastructure to support the millions of tourists who visit each year.
“If we did anything, it would be to increase the hotel tax and to reallocate it back to communities where the money is driven from,” said Mandel, explaining his party would also create a regional economic infrastructure fund to help rural communities.
In 2016, a report commissioned by Canmore, Banff and Jasper showed that the three tourism-based communities make up less than one per cent of Alberta’s population, but play host to 13 per cent of the province’s visitors, attracting more than four million tourists annually.
The report found that visitor spending results in an annual economic impact of $2.46-billion and $756-million in tax revenue to all three levels of government, however only three per cent of the tax revenue is returned to the municipalities.
In a break from her leader, Stanton said she’d like to see municipalities across Alberta be allowed to collect a tourism improvement fee from hotels with a portion of the revenue going to support municipal infrastructure and a portion going to support local tourism management organizations.
“Tourism isn’t about new bricks and mortar, it is a celebration of our culture and heritage, so if some of our rural areas in Alberta had an opportunity to create events, or a series of events, that would help drive more hotel room nights then it puts more money into both the municipality coffers and our provincial coffers,” wrote Stanton in a follow up message.