Harrison Hot Springs is hoping to expand its hotel tax to include accommodations in Kent, Hemlock Valley and Harrison Mills, in order to bring in more money for local tourism marketing.
“It may benefit the region altogether with the new tax,” Counc. Samantha Piper said about the potential expansion of the hotel tax.
During Monday’s council meeting (Jan. 18), Harrison council debated the merits of increasing the area included in its Municipal and Regional District Tax bylaw. The tax, commonly known as the MRDT or hotel tax, allows the village to collect three per cent sales tax on the use of hotel rooms and other short term rentals.
Harrison’s current three per cent hotel tax is set to expire at the beginning of 2022. The tax is collected through the provincial sales tax system, and distributed back to the community for tourism marketing. Harrison gives these funds to Tourism Harrison for the promotion of the area and specific events.
Tourism Harrison largely promotes Harrison Hot Springs, but also has done marketing for events in the District of Kent and parts of the Fraser Valley Regional District, such as the Cycle Farm Tour and the now-defunct Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival.
Because of this, Tourism Harrison requested the hotel tax be expanded to Kent and Electoral Area C, which includes Hemlock Valley, Harrison Mills, Lake Errock, Weaver Creek and several First Nations, including Sts’ailes.
If included, places like the Sandpiper Resort, bed and breakfasts on Rockwell Drive and legal AirBnBs in Kent would be required to add a three per cent sales tax to their accommodations, which would be returned to Harrison Hot Springs to be shared with Tourism Harrison.
Although Harrison council voted in favour of asking Kent and the FVRD if they would be willing to be part of the taxable area, at least one council member had some concerns about what this expansion would mean for Tourism Harrison’s priorities.
“Obviously if you’re contributing because you’re Sandpiper, then you’re expecting Sandpiper and that area to be properly marketed,” Counc. Gerry Palmer said. “I know they do benefit from overall Tourism Harrison marketing, but [right now] it’s not specific to them.”
Piper said that Tourism Harrison is already quite “inclusive in their marketing for our local area.”
“That’s evident not only through their socials, but also different events that happen in and throughout our region,” she said, adding that paying the hotel tax is simply part of being a tourist. “We’re not reinventing the wheel here, I think.”
In order to increase the taxable area, Harrison must do the following by March 31:
- get the consent of Kent and the FVRD to be included in the new plan;
- adopt a new bylaw to impose a three per cent accommodation tax on hotels and short term rental providers;
- present a five-year business plan to the province, which will be prepared by Tourism Harrison;
- provide documented evidence of consultation with and approval from tourism stakeholders;
- develop an accommodation directory for all providers in the new area;
- complete an Accommodation Sector in Support of MRDT form, with more than half of accommodation providers in support; and
- agree to give a small portion of the tax revenue to the province for the provincial tourism events program.
Many of these items will be undertaken by Tourism Harrison. The organization is already canvassing accommodation providers for support with renewing the MRDT program in Harrison, and is speaking with others in the expanded area as well.
It is possible the District of Kent and the FVRD could impose a hotel tax on their own, which would mean the tax dollars would flow through to those districts for tourism marketing, rather than to Harrison. However, CAO Madeline McDonald said combining the areas would have a better “economy of scale.”
“If you’re collecting from a very small pool of tourist accommodaters, there’s not much you can do with the revenue,” she said. “This is where the regional marketing approach has been so very effective through Tourism Harrison. And I believe they [Tourism Harrison] are motivated to build and strengthen those partnerships.”
If Kent and the FVRD come on board for the new tax, council will need to approve a new bylaw that would allow the hotel tax to be collected for five years in that area. If those communities do not come on board, the village will need to approve a new bylaw anyways — although one that would look much more similar to the existing bylaw, which only covers Harrison Hot Springs.