CANMORE – A year after Canmore council unanimously voted to accept a 10-year tourism strategy, elected officials are ready to invest in and solidify their relationship with the community's destination marketing organization.
At the beginning of April, council voted to approve a new tourism bridging document aligned with the Tourism Canmore Kananaskis (TCK) strategy as well as provide $54,000 to the non-profit organization to continue its work toward a vision of using a triple bottom line approach to become a leader in sustainable tourism by 2029.
Council also directed administration to create a partnership agreement with TCK tied to the funding, and any future support provided through the municipality. Mayor John Borrowman said given the current circumstances, the municipality needs to respond in a concrete way to help rebuild the economy and support local businesses.
"I know we will be discussing a number of other opportunities in the near future and ways we can use the Town's resources to support our economy and businesses," Borrowman said.
"But this year will be particularly challenging for the business sector and once the situation actually changes and health authorities give the word people can start moving about more freely again and start travelling when they want ... we are going to need to mount a very comprehensive marketing plan to reach out and share with future visitors our current situation and welcome them back to town."
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The mayor put forward an unsuccessful motion to increase the 2020 funding from the municipality's economic development reserve to TCK to $100,000. There was also discussion about what future funding may look like once administration creates a partnership agreement with the membership-based tourism organization.
Manager of economic development Eleanor Miclette provided council with a comparison of other municipal funding mechanisms for destination marketing organizations (DMO).
Cochrane, for example, provides 20 per cent of the tourism operating budget to its DMO through an annual application process and 20 per cent of funding for project specific applications as well. This system is currently under review.
Miclette recommended the $54,000 amount based on a $3 per capita calculation for Canmore as a starting point.
"I will say that we did research a number of destination marketing organizations and various funding structures they have available to them and it varies from zero to hundreds of thousands of dollars – all tied to various outcomes," she said.
Operating funding was a key objective for TCK in its 10-year strategy, and Miclette said its request to council was for a $6 per capita amount of $108,000.
"We did not support that as the recommendation at this time," she said. "Mainly because of the pandemic and recognizing our community is diverse and the needs for support will be diverse.
"We still need to better understand where we as a Town play a role and how we can play that role."
The mayor said he would support a percentage of business licence revenues being provided to TCK annually as part of the formalized agreement.
"I do not think in the long run $50,000 a year will cut it," he said. "But that is a conversation for another day, once we get through this current COVID-19 situation."
The funding would support the organization's marketing efforts in the short-term, while the development of a longer-term funding agreement would focus on delivering on its objectives in the tourism strategy.
In addition to membership fees, the majority of TCK's current funding is from a voluntary destination marketing fee charged on room nights at 20 partner hotels.
While executive director Dave Rodney left the organization earlier this year, board chair Andrew Shepherd said the funding, bridging document and move toward a formalized partnership with the municipality are all exciting steps for TCK.
"TCK can focus on what we do best – marketing for our stakeholders and community – and the Town can focus on community-related items and together we can share the joy," he said. "Everybody wants to be on the same path together and with the Town, our path is a bit wider.
"We can really do what we are supposed to be doing – marketing Canmore, but also doing it in a responsible way."
TCK's operations manager Rachel Ludwig said even with the current COVID-19 situation, the commitment and drive toward becoming a leader in sustainable tourism remains unchanged.
"It has made it more apparent that a change is necessary within the tourism industry and that sustainability piece will be more important than ever," she said.
In February, TCK changed its board makeup to add representatives from restaurants, as well as retail and adventure-based businesses. Borrowman and Councillor Rob Seeley also sit on the board.
Administration will work with TCK on the partnership agreement and return to council for approval, as well as long-term funding options.
Meanwhile, the bridging document organizes action items for the municipality around the tourism strategy's five goals, with short, medium and long-term time frames.
The strategy's goals include building community-wide trust, collaboration, engagement and accountability in order to strengthen the social infrastructure supporting tourism. As well as improving the physical infrastructure of Canmore and Kananaskis to enhance visitor experience, prepare for growth and improve quality of life for residents.
The bridging document includes action items specifically for the Town of Canmore to take the lead on, like identifying tourism indicators to measure, defining the characteristics of overtourism, examining the carrying capacity of the region and developing a plan to mitigate negative effects of overtourism.
Other action items include hosting an annual planning meeting with Alberta Parks, the MD of Bighorn and Kananaskis Improvement District, and in the long term, exploring the potential of amalgamating with Banff Lake Louise Tourism to create a regional DMO.
There is also direction to explore the feasibility of developing a pedestrian plaza along Main Street and continuing to advocate for the region's tourism sector and resort municipality status.