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Town faces decision on visitor centre

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

The Hinton & District Chamber of Commerce requested financial support from council to continue managing the Hinton & District Information Centre after it lost provincial funding.

The chamber is seeking support from both the Town of Hinton and Yellowhead County to continue offering the service for a total of $106,000.

“The chamber is a self sustaining nonprofit organization. This is a service that we are offering to perform for the town of Hinton. We truly believe that a tourism centre, a visitor information centre, is very important to our town and to our county,” said Tracy Shepard, president of the chamber during the regular council meeting on March 3.

The chamber has managed the Travel Alberta Centre for more than 15 years and their contract with the Government of Alberta funded the operations throughout the peak season.

Peak season starts in May until October, while the remaining six months were supported by the Town of Hinton for the same services.

Travel Alberta paid the Chamber $77,000 to operate and manage the centre during the peak season, while Hinton paid $22,000 to operate the centre and run the Canada Day Parade and Snowflake parade as well as distribute a visitor information guide.

Other services offered at the centre included staff, online information services, information phone line, listings of all tourism operators and accommodations, a one stop shopping for hotel and tour bookings, and campground reservation, park passes and federal fishing licences.

Without funding throughout the summer months for the centre, the chamber wouldn’t be able to operate the centre throughout the off-season due to the costs of the building.

All costs to run the visitor information centre year-round add up to $106,000. 

The chamber is asking both the county and the town to share the costs of the centre.

“We personally believe it should be half and half. I just want to clarify here that we are asking them for $53,000 and that includes the service fee already so it would be an additional ask of $31,000,” said Shepard.

During the budget portion of the meeting, Coun. Dewly Nelson brought up a motion that was tabled until council has a chance to discuss further in-camera.

The motion would make a reduction in the economic development budget to allow $53,000 to be allocated for the visitor centre run by the Chamber of Commerce.

Since the budget deliberations will continue at the following council meeting, this motion would come back for decision at that time.

Benefits of the centre outlined in the Chamber’s proposal included its prime location along highway 16, and the promotion of local services if the Town and County both agree to fund the centre.

Government funding restricted what services they could promote due to the contract.

“With local funding the tourism centre will focus on Hinton and Yellowhead County services, giving preference to local businesses, services and accommodation options,” the proposal read.

Chamber executive director, Natalie Charlton, named a kiosk for the Hinton Mountain Bike Association (HMBA) as an example.

The proposal also stated that tourism is one of Alberta’s key industries and a growing contributor to the provincial economy, generating more than 36 million visits and more than $8 billion in annual tourism expenditures. 

Visitors spent a record $8.9 billion in 2017, a five per cent increase year over year, supporting more than 22,000 tourism-related businesses and 127,000 jobs in all corners of the province, it continued.

“Travel Alberta does say that by 2030, they’re looking at a 20 billion revenue,” said Tracy Shepard

Foot traffic for the visitor information centre is counted by visiting parties, which means six people in a group equals one visit.

Last year the centre saw 2304 visits which was down from 2963 the year prior, largely believed to be due to the closure of the Whistler Campground and the unseasonal weather.