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Province cuts visitor centre funding

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Funding being counted on for Hinton’s Visitor Information Centre (VIC) in May 2020 will not be coming from Travel Alberta.

The Hinton and District Chamber Of Commerce operates the centre throughout the year and was told by  the province on Jan. 21, 2020 that funding would be cut immediately.

The $77,000 from the Alberta government helped operate the centre between the May long weekend and Thanksgiving weekend with three full time and one part time staff. The Chamber has a contract with the Town of Hinton to fund operations for the remainder of the year.

Tracy Shepard, president of the Chamber, was told the decision has nothing to do with service levels or breaking contractual agreements, but is entirely due to budget cuts.

Justin Brattinga, press secretary of the Economic Development, Trade and Tourism Minister, told The Voice that the decision to close Hinton’s VIC and others is due to a drastic reduction in foot traffic and engagement over the last three years.

Brattinga added that there is a dramatic shift in visitors accessing information via various online resources. 

The Chamber stated that while numbers have dropped since 2017, there are reasonable explanations. 

Numbers were up in 2017 due to the free national park passes, followed by less visitors in 2018. 

Numbers went down again in 2019, likely due to the heavy rain and the closure of one of Jasper’s major campgrounds.

The Chamber found that a majority of other VICs are funded through their municipality and county and as a next viable step, their board has put together a funding proposal for the Town of Hinton.

Shepard stated they will first make a request for support from the Town before asking the county. 

“The Chamber has a good relationship with the Town, that will help us understand if this is even worth pursuing or if it is something that we just go, ‘Okay we’re going to hand this over to the town,’” said Shepard.

Including Hinton, there are nine travel centres located across Alberta, but Travel Alberta did not confirm which others would lose funding.

The Chamber has operated the VIC for more than 20 years in Hinton, with provincial funding contracts throughout the summer months.

The Hinton Chamber was in its second year of a three year contract, where they were to receive $77,000 annually.

“We’re the gateway to the Alaskan highway, we’re the gateway to the Rockies, we’re right outside a national park, we have so many other parks surrounding us. We are a Mecca of tourism and activity, and the fact that they chose to pull our VIC is absolutely mind boggling to me,” said Shepard.

If the centre continues to operate without provincial funding, one positive outlook is not being restricted by government rules and requirements, added Shepard.

“You have to have so much content that pertains to all of Alberta, they push you to send people to Banff and that kind of thing,” said Shepard.

Without government funding, the centre can focus on promoting local activities that may not have been possible before. 

Exact details of the closures and savings will be made public following Budget 2020, stated Brattinga.