Tourism Society proposing room tax for Cowichan

The Tourism Cowichan Society wants to grasp the reins of tourism marketing in the Cowichan Valley and has proposed a new tax on hotel rooms to fund future work in that area.

Tourism Cowichan’s Janet Docherty, also the owner of Merridale Cider, presented their plan to the Cowichan Valley Regional District board Wednesday night.

"It’s an amazing place," she said of the region. "We in Cowichan have a story to tell."

Getting that story out is key to developing a lucrative tourism industry, Docherty said, and its something the area is not doing as well as it can with a little investment.

Tourism can be an important driver in economic growth for the area, she said, citing the figure of $8.6 billion in revenue from the industry in the province in 2012, with Vancouver Island accounting for 15 per cent of that total.

The money the society is asking for is the $120,000 budgeted by the CVRD this year for the function. They want it turned over to them, which would dovetail with recommendations made by Jerry Berry in his report on the CVRD’s Economic Development function. In that report he recommended that Tourism Cowichan Society, made up of industry stakeholders, be given the lead in that area.

The society is also requesting the $65,000 surplus currently in the function, to begin work on a study necessary to get the ball rolling on bringing in a Municipal and Regional District Tax on accommodations. The tax is the lynchpin of the society’s future plans. Their funding request is a one-time deal, Docherty stressed.

"You need to spend a little bit of money to get to a place of sustainability," Docherty argued. The tax will provide the future sustainable funding. "We [Tourism Cowichan Society] have a vested interest in making it work…Nothing drives you more than you have to eat tonight."

Under provincial law, the tax can be set at two per cent, and virtually every other region on Vancouver Island has one already, using it to support their tourism industries.

"We’re leaving it on the table by not having it," Docherty said. "We are going backwards with out tourism budget."

It’s something that’s frustrating tourism operators in Cowichan, she said.

To implement such a tax they need a majority of accommodation providers on board, something that Docherty thinks can be accomplished because this is an industry-driven initiative.

It’s the difference of having people driving through the Valley rather than staying, she said.

"If you don’t give us the tools and the budget then we can’t do this," Docherty said.